Results tagged ‘ Charleston RiverDogs ’
It’s time for another installment of “Why I Love,” in which Minor League fans explain what it is they love about their favorite team and why. Today’s guest writer is Paul Worley, a long-time supporter of the “abstraction otherwise known as the Charleston baseball club.”
Why I Love the Charleston RiverDogs, by Paul Worley
(All photos by Paul Worley, unless otherwise noted)
Despite what the tourist brochures may tell you, Charleston, South Carolina, is largely a screen for the projection of history. Little could be said to still happen there. The city has stepped outside of the flow of time, as intentionally anachronistic horse-and-carriages echo down streets that are hardly large enough to accommodate the late-model sports cars owned by the men and women who fly back twice a year to take in a bit of salt air from meticulously reproduced antebellum verandas.
As someone who left Charleston to go to school in the mid-’90s, I return home to find that others have moved in, knocked out the walls and rearranged the furniture. Everywhere, that is, with the exception of the ballpark. Bill Murray (yes, THAT Bill Murray, a.k.a. the RiverDogs’ Director of Fun) and the rest of the Goldklang Group brought changes to the team, but as much as possible they have really left things the same. That’s why I love the RiverDogs.
The narrator of Louis D. Rubin Jr.’s 1979 short story about Charleston baseball in the 1930s spends his time in-between innings observing a little train over the outfield fence at College Park, one of the oldest Minor League parks in the country and the RiverDogs’ original home. He tries to catch it coming or going, but never can. He looks up and it’s there, or looks up and it’s gone. The train is either at the station or it isn’t. The train never moves or changes, but it does. It’s an apt metaphor for the team.
In my lifetime, the abstraction otherwise known as the Charleston baseball club has had several names: Patriots, Pirates, Royals, Rainbows and RiverDogs. Before that, the club was known as the Rebels, the Palmettos and the Quakers. Pro baseball in the city was founded in 1886 by two teams: a member of the Southern League of Colored Baseballists called the Fultons; and a Southern Association team known as the Seagulls. Unlike most teams then, the genealogy of the Riverdogs doesn’t lead us back to a single man or single team, but to the segregated legacy of the Jim Crow South that, through baseball, results in a kind of unity. White and black, they’re all founding fathers of Charleston baseball.
The RiverDogs play at Joe Riley Park, shortened by most fans to “The Joe.” Built in 1997, it’s among the new wave of parks whose architects, taking a cue from Baltimore’s Camden Yards, wove the park into the city. From the backside you can look out over the marsh leading onto the Ashley River with Citadel faculty housing tucked beneath a few oak trees on the shore off to the right. The outfield fence is lined with trees hiding the river just beyond with a tall building or two finishing out a modest skyline.
While the RiverDogs go to great lengths to capture the attention of the casual fan, the team has etched South Carolina’s baseball history into the park itself. Camden’s own Larry Doby has his number 14 retired out on the centerfield wall, the forlorn hero of Pickens County, Shoeless Joe Jackson, has a small beach named for him just beyond the right field foul line and there is a “Scouts Hall of Fame” located along the main concourse. Every year, during “Larry Doby Heritage Weekend,” the team hosts members of the Cannon Street All-Stars, an all-African-American Little League team from Charleston who, in 1955, were denied the opportunity to play in the Little League World Series because they’d won all of their games in the segregated South by forfeit.
Before they were a Yankees affiliate, the RiverDogs were one of the original franchises associated with my favorite team, the Tampa Bay Rays, which means I cheer for certain “Yankees as Riverdogs” while still hoping that New York’s American League baseballers finish somewhere north of 100 losses. After all, while they come and go and by definition are trying to get somewhere else, it’s the players who make the Charleston experience meaningful.
Hall of Famers, all-time greats and MVPs have played with the Charleston club, and their names are easy enough to find. I’m a big fan of former RiverDogs catcher Francisco Arcia, who, during a “kids day at the (water)park” a few summers ago, walked around the bullpen area with a Super Soaker hosing down everything within 100 feet of him.
Dante Bichette, Jr. once impressed me with his knowledge of vintage minor league uniforms (I was sporting a Durham Bulls jersey from the mid-1990s signed by former RiverDog and Bull Elliot Johnson). I particularly enjoy talking smack to players in Spanish, and I’ll forever remember the pitcher (name withheld) who turned around to me in the middle of a game and asked me bluntly, “Y tú, ¿quién eres?” My scorecard from that game notes that this conversation lasted from two outs in the top of the fourth until the seventh inning stretch. My favorite Charleston ballplayer of all-time is the late Tom Saffell. His best memory of playing in Charleston occurred during the 1946 season, while running from first base to second on a routine ground ball. The shortstop, having made the pivot and overanxious to get the runner going to first, drilled Saffell, who was trying to break up the double play in the usual way, square in the head. This happened twice in the same game. There should be a plaque somewhere in the park to honor Saffell and the bungled routines that make life memorable.
Players present constantly intersect with players past, and you get the impression that if you could read them correctly, 30-year-old scorecards and discarded tidbits from the news would reveal tomorrow’s starting lineup. Walt “No Neck” Williams managed the Rainbows, so it’s unsurprising that Mason Williams, his nephew, would one day turn up in the RiverDogs outfield. Rob Refsynder had a few choice words for University of South Carolina fans after his Arizona team defeated USC in the 2012 College World Series, so naturally Charleston was his first stop after the Yankees drafted him. If L.J. Mazzilli is starting for the visiting Sand Gnats, expect Lee Mazzilli to materialize in the park. When Dante Bichette, Jr. was with the team, you could look up during the inevitable late August thunderstorm rain delays and find Dante Bichette, Sr. seated two rows up from you, eating a hot dog, drinking a Diet Coke and waiting out the rain with the rest of us who never played an inning beyond Little League.
During the South Atlantic League All-Star Game festivities that were held in Charleston in 2012, I had a chance to speak with the Director of Fun himself. He told me that slip-and-sliding on a tarped field during a rain delay is the best thing in the world, and that if I ever got the chance I should go for it. In honor of Rubin, Saffell, and Arcia, and Cannon Street, and the Fultons and the Seagulls, the next time I’m in Charleston I’ll take him up on it, if only to tell the cops who arrest me, “With God as my witness, Bill Murray told me it was all good.” Because it’s better than good, and it’ll always be home. That’s why I love the Charleston RiverDogs.
Thanks to Paul for taking the time to write this and, again: If YOU would like to submit a post for this series, then send an email to the address below. In the meantime, here’s my 2011 “On the Road” post detailing my Charleston RiverDogs experience.
Signs of spring are all around us, from warmer weather to Major League Baseball being played at ungodly hours on international soil to tiresome Twitter jokes about busted NCAA brackets. But, for me, one of the surest signs of spring is the arrival of an email from John “Schu” Schumacher, food and beverage director of the Goldklang Group (the Minor League ownership group consisting of the Charleston RiverDogs, Fort Myers Miracle, Hudson Valley Renegades, St. Paul Saints, and Pittsfield Suns).
Schu is based in Charleston, and each offseason he and his RiverDogs cohorts retreat to a secluded kitchen location in order to concoct new food and beverage options that will be served at Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park. In previous seasons I have written extensively about these culinary creations, from the Homewrecker Hot Dog to the Pickle Dog to the Pig on a Stick to Pimento Pickle Burgers and Facebook Nachos to duck and venison sausages to beer shakes and jalapeno peanut butter and jelly burgers.
Which brings us to now, which is all there ever was and all there will ever be. On the cusp of the 2014 campaign, Schu has gotten in touch with his annual email missive. I now cede the floor to him.
[RiverDogs food and beverage director] Josh [Shea] and I finally got out of the test kitchen and have determined our new menu items for the ’14 season…here are the highlights.
New and Improved Beer Shakes:
Beer Shakes were so popular last year, of course they will still be on the menu but we’re kicking it up a notch by adding Spiked Beer Shakes (beer & booze). Guinness Kahlua Shake & Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan Beer paired with a Cathead Pecan Vodka. We will also have a rotating specials.
And, in other alcohol news:
Our Wine Garden will be tweaked into a Sangria Garden serving 4 in-house made Sangrias concoctions (a red, 2 whites and a rose Sangria).
Yes, frog legs:
We started a self-serve Taco Herb Garden in ’13 – the fans loved it! So in 2014 we will be adding 2 more self-serve gardens for our fans to customize their menu items.
Carrot Dogs (and more)
We’ll be adding some additional items to our Healthy Menu – a herb Turkey Burger and a Carrot Dog (a herb & honey roasted carrot stuffed in a bun with cilantro cabbage slaw & drizzled with a Sriracha Honey).
All told, this will be a lot for Charleston to chew on.
My previous post focused on a variety of Opening Day innovations, but consider it a prelude to this, the most reliably enjoyable Opening Day innovation of them all: creative Charleston RiverDogs’ concessions!
Regular readers of this blog have long thrilled to the culinary creations of John Schumacher (aka “Schu”), the man behind the Pickle Dog, Homewrecker, Pig on a Stick, “alternative tubular meat searches” and many more offerings at Joseph P. Riley Park (aka “The Joe”).
Yesterday Schu, the food and beverage director for the Goldklang Group (of which the RiverDogs are a part), sent me a photo-laden email containing the latest — and therefore greatest — additions to the RiverDogs food and beverage line-up. Take it away, Schu:
We’ve experimented and were extremely happy with with our Beer Shake creations, and have decided to offer 3 flavors: Palmetto Espresso Porter Chocolate (from a local brewery), Guinness Caramel and Sweetwater 420 Strawberry….they’re delicious!
Beer shake ingredients:
Schu also reports that the RiverDogs will be offering a beer with the delightful name of “Pig Swig,” created by local grocery store chain Piggly Wiggly. But moving on to harder offerings, there’s this:
We will be adding Moonshine Margaritas to our Tiki Hut using locally made flavored moonshines (Peach & Cherry) from Firefly Distillery.
Such alcoholic concoctions can be paired with new menu additions like, oh, I don’t know, a Peanut Butter and Jelly Jalapeno Bacon Burger. Schu calls it “mindblowing.”
While perhaps not quite as attention-getting as the above, there are plenty of other big changes afoot. From Schu:
We are doing a slight makeover (but staying in the same hemisphere) with the changing of our Nacho House to a Taco House called “Wacko for Taco.” (However, because of their popularity we will continue to offer our Kitchen Sink Nachos.) The Taco Menu will include a Chipotle Chicken, Beef, & Pulled Pork Taco (locally made pulled pork from Sticky Fingers).
The 2 headliner items will be a Charlie T(aco) Dog which includes both a soft & hard taco with a hot dog, mustard BBQ sauce & cole slaw filling. For the other featured taco, the MUSC Urban Farm Veggie Taco, we will be partnering with The Medical University of South Carolina that recently started an Urban Garden in downtown Charleston. We will be going to the Farm each homestand to harvest the veggies & herbs to use in the taco.
Fans of tubular meats will be happy to know that the team’s Sausage World stand is returning, with a Chicken and Apple sausage now complementing the likes of Alligator, Duck, and Bratwurst. And for those just looking for a light, healthy snack, the RiverDogs now offer the following:
Under our Snack Menu we will be adding Fresh Fried Pork Rinds and Pork Cracklins. In addition we will also be offering Deep Fried Peanuts in Sea Salt & BBQ flavors.
Yes! Rinds and Cracklins (a particular bad habit of mine whenever my travels take me below the Mason-Dixon line). Writes Schu:
They come from a company called Triland Foods out of Iowa. You drop the product in 400 degree oil & they take about 30 seconds to expand (or explode as we like to put it). Then you can dust them with your favorite flavoring.
Before and after:
After a season spent preparing items such as the above, I hope that Schu and his staff can actually fit into these shirts!
“It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon” has become one of my favorite cliches, primarily because it helps to justify the fact that some of my content is months old at this point.
It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.
With that in my mind, let’s (re)visit one of the most unique events to take place in the Minor Leagues this season: on June 18, the first round of the South Atlantic League Home Run Derby was held on the deck of Charleston’s USS Yorktown. Participants hit balls into the Charleston Harbor, which were summarily scooped up by volunteers on jet skis.
The above photo, and all of the photos to come, were taken by Chad Walters. You may remember Walters from the 2011 Winter Meetings in Dallas, as he set up shop at the Trade Show in order to inform teams about his Lean Blitz consulting business. He also was a Dipquest attendee. When Walters got in touch just prior to the derby to see if I’d be interested in running his photos on the blog, I said “of course!” I didn’t say that it would take upwards of two months for me to run them but, well, here we are.
Some background info, courtesy of Walters:
The USS Yorktown is docked in Patriots Point in Charleston Harbor. The large bridge in the background is the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge across the Cooper River. The USS Yorktown is a naval museum and is permanently docked.
Miller High Life was one of the event’s sponsors and, as such ,High Life spokesman Wendell Middlebrooks was in attendance.
More from Walters:
The manufacturer of the inflatable backstop is InMotion Air out of Alpharetta, Georgia. It took them about six minutes to inflate the backstop and probably 20 minutes to completely set up to accommodate some reservations by the organizers about the netting hanging down a little close to bat swing paths.
The scene around the Yorktown as attendees and participants made their way to the venue.
Truly, there had never been a home run derby like this before.
Just a bit more from the virtual pen of Mr. Walters:
The two hitters I’ve shown from the front side are Matt Skole of Hagerstown and Matt Duffy of Lexington (the jersey resembles the 80’s Astros design). Both moved onto the finals being held tonight at the RiverDogs stadium prior to the start of the All-Star Game.
Oh, well, then let’s take a look at these front side batsmen.
Walters, unfortunately, had to depart the event before Bill Murray showed up to take a few swings (Murray is a Charleston resident and co-owner of the RiverDogs). For more info on how it all went down, then take a gander at this photo recap provided by Charleston-based Post and Courier.
Thanks to Walters for sending his pictures and observations, and my apologies for taking some 52 days to run them. Remember: it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.
Quad Cities River Bandits, what have you wrought?
As you may recall, last season the River Bandits turned their All Star Game home run derby into a cartoonish extravaganza replete with beer keg targets and Hooters girls in a dunk tank. The Reading Phillies took this concept and ran with it — on July 10, the team is staging a home run derby that looks like something out of a Chuck Jones fever dream.
And now? Now we have THIS. The Charleston RiverDogs, hosts of the 2012 South Atlantic League All-Star Game, are holding their home run derby atop an aircraft carrier. The Yorktown:
Quite possibly the first-ever derby off the flight deck of a carrier, the event…will be held on Monday, June 18, at 11 am with the championship round being staged at 5:15 pm Tuesday, prior to the All-Star Game at Riley Park.
The 10 Home Run Derby competitors – five from the Northern Division and five from the Southern Division – will take their 10 swings in an inflatable batting cage that is stationed on the flight deck. A total of four players will make the final round that is set for 5:15 pm at Riley Park.
The RiverDogs, being the community-involved and environment-conscious organization that they are, have addressed the litter potential as they have hired kayakers and personnel on jet skis to retrieve the balls hit into Charleston Harbor. The US Coast Guard will supervise and assist, and no sea life will be disturbed.
In addition, the Coast Guard will assess and note the longest homers to determine the finalists and will radio the results to officials that are stationed on the Yorktown to record.
Moving on, you may remember that in 2010 the Cleveland Indians and their affiliates put together an “Around the Horn” ticket pack that included games at Mahoning Valley, Lake County, Akron, Columbus, and Cleveland.
It’s a great idea (the similarly-clustered Phillies farm system should do one!) and now the Baltimore organization has introduced their own version.
Visit the Fan Assistance Center in the Warehouse at Camden Yards to pick up your Birdland Passport. Use the passport when traveling to Oriole Park and the many Orioles’ Minor League affiliates’ ballparks throughout the region. Once you’ve gathered five stamps (of the possible six local Birdland destinations), you’ll receive a limited edition “Did Somebody Say Roadtrip?” Birdland Passport T-shirt.
And since I was speaking of Indians affiliates earlier, I’ll close with this lil anecdote. A couple of months ago, I received an email from a reader named Steve Wood. He lives in Ontario, but is a fan of the Indians and all of their affiliates. He lamented the isolation of the Canadian Cleveland fan:
Standing on the north shore of Lake Erie I would love to be able tell you that I can see the lights of Eastlake, Ohio, home of the Lake County Captains, or straight up East 9th St.in Cleveland as if the founders of that glorious city planned on building a bridge right to my province. Alas, when I stand on the north shore of Lake Erie all I see is lots of Lake Erie and it’s usually pretty cold so I get back in the car.
Struck by his plight, I forwarded his info to the Captains and the team sent a “fan pack” all the way to Ontario (assistant GM Neil Stein lamented that international shipping laws prevented the team from including a “Moby Dick” sandwich). Here’s Wood now, representing the Captains in the comfort of his kitchen:
All’s well that ends well,
We’re still in the midst of Opening Week, during which Minor League teams pull out all of the stops: Blue Angel flyovers, operatic National Anthems, special guests from seasons past, that sort of thing.
But there’s always room for the weirdness. Always. And one of the prime purveyors of the surreal ballpark spectacle are the Lake Elsinore Storm, whose Opening Night festivities included the following dance routine.
Ah, Grounds Crew Gorilla, I missed you, buddy. Planks for being you.
The Grounds Crew Gorilla may be a unique character, but he’s hardly alone when it comes to animalian ballpark denizens. One of the most recent on the scene is the Great Lakes Loons’ “Rall E. Camel“, a new companion to Lou E. Loon:
Rall E. was the denizen of the much-hyped mysterious box that arrived at Dow Diamond this winter, but apparently he’s none the worse for wear after his long confinement. (No word yet on whether his theme song will be “My Humps.”)
Amidst a spirited discussion on the team’s Facebook page, the Loons offered the following explanation for Rall E.’s existence:
It all dates back to one game in 2009, having exhausted all means of sparking a Loons rally, there was still one last video clip in the production vault. The following ‘Rally Camel’ clip was played on the video board and lo and behold the team rallied. Throughout the year the clip was played in late-game situations and every time the team would rally for the win. Rall E was born.
But sometimes it’s better, or at least more fun, to present things out of context. For example, the following image was recently attached to a press release put out by the Charleston RiverDogs.
Just stare at that for a few minutes, and it will provide entry into new realms of consciousness.
Finally, you may recall that in a post last week I linked to my favorite YouTube video as a means to express my thoughts on the start of a new season. After doing this, I wrote that I would GREATLY appreciate it if someone could take the audio from the clip linked to above and lay it over an array of upbeat Minor League images, ending with the Opening Day 2012 logo.
The very next day there was an email in my inbox, subject line “Ask and ye shall receive.” So, yes, now this exists:
Big thanks to Anita Tsuchiya for taking the time to create what is surely one of the more obscure videos floating around the internet!
And with that, today’s blogging goals have now been realized. Until next time, I remain:
Opening Day countdowns are a recurring feature of many teams’ Facebook and Twitter feeds, and for good reason. It’s a quick and easy way to keep baseball’s imminence in the collective consciousness.
One team that you can really count on when it comes to counting down are the Delmarva Shorebirds, who are in the homestretch of an ambitious and creative “30 Days of Opening Day” promotion.
Sez the press release:
Starting on March 14, which is 30 days removed from the home opener, the Shorebirds will have a new event, appearance or contest planned each day leading up to April 12.
This includes mascot tour stops, local TV appearances, a Fan Fest, a “Player’s Send-off Party” and recurring weekly promotions such as “Donut Monday,” “Talk to Me Tuesdays,” and “Weenie Wednesdays. ” It is my opinion that “Donut Mondays” should be adapted by every MiLB team. Each Monday morning, the team posts the following message on Facebook:
Post a picture of your office or place of business on our wall and your office could win a delivery of donuts from us tomorrow morning! The post with the most ‘likes’ by 5pm today wins!
It’s a hole lot of fun! (Hope your eyes didn’t glaze over at that last sentence. I dough my best).
Another innovative endeavor comes courtesy of those very same RiverDogs who were featured in Monday’s post. Late last week, the team announced the latest component of their “Be Your Own Fan” marketing campaign.
Another press release, another excerpt. This is how we roll:
Fans will have the opportunity….to register for “Be Your Own Fan” campaign. Upon registering, fans will receive a free colored coded bracelet, plus emails, offers and incentives that cater to their interests and to the reason they come to the ballpark.
There are nine unique fan groups from which to choose:
- The Networker: Comes to the ballpark to meet and connect with people and utilize the facility’s atmosphere to create business relationships;
- The Foodie: Someone who loves the various food offerings at The Joe;
- The Family: Comes to games because they know that a RiverDogs game can always be counted on to provide an evening of quality, wholesome family entertainment;
- The Socializer: Comes to The Joe to because they know that it is THE place to be seen;
- Promo-Sapian: Always into the wacky between innings promotions and awesome giveaways;
- The Traveler: Visits the ballpark for a taste of true Charleston hospitality;
- The Pyro: Loves the many postgame fireworks shows at The Joe;
- The River Pup: The younger fans at the park that have a blast as members Charlie’s Kids Club;
- The Super Fan: Knows the RiverDogs’ roster by heart and wears that heart on his/her sleeve.
The Goldklang Group’s “Be Your Own Fan” campaign has been running for a few years now and, while a good slogan, I often found it to be a bit vague in execution. The above initiative is a real step forward, then, as it clearly details all the ways in which the RiverDogs (and, by extension, Minor League Baseball) can appeal to diverse groups of people.
Minor League Baseball’s appeal can extend to aspiring foul line guardians of advanced age, and the Mobile BayBears are reaching out to exactly this demographic with their “Golden Glovers” program.
Taking a cue from the San Francisco Giants’ long-running “Ball Dudes” promotion, the BayBears are offering the following opportunity to those over the age of 60:
[E]ach BayBears home game, two “Golden Glovers” will report to the field and sign a one-day contract with the BayBears. Responsibilities will be to suit up in uniform and protest the foul lines. BayBears manager Turner Ward will provide key strategies in stopping foul balls down the lines and making sure the “Golden Glover” provide the foul balls to the kids in the stands.
So there you have it, folks. Another blog post, another array of creative and adaptable ideas from the world of MiLB. Thanks for your support; I’ll be here all week.