Results tagged ‘ Cupdate ’

On the Road: Synagogues, Sausages, and Psychological Warfare in South Bend

This Midwest League trip featured two teams in Wisconsin, four in Michigan, and then, finally, one in Indiana. That lone Indiana entity  was the South Bend Silver Hawks, occupants of Stanley Coveleski Regional Stadium (known as “Coveleski Stadium” for short and “the Cove” for shorter). The Cove was but a 10 minute walk from my hotel, and betwixt the two locations one can find what is (allegedly) the world’s largest chocolate store.

I did not have time to visit.

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But outside of said chocolatier, the walk to the stadium was rather barren.

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But, soon enough, out in the distance, on the horizon, the Cove appeared to me like a vision before my unbelieving eyes.

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I walked toward this inflatable creature with awe-filled reverence.

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I was so overwhelmed by its sheer immensity.

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This back entrance is one of many additions and improvements that have been made to the Cove over the last two years, some funded by the city and others funded by new owner Andrew Berlin. By all accounts the 26-year-old stadium had taken on a feeling of neglect and decay in recent years, but these days it is imbued with a spirited sense of revitalization.

Shockingly, opposite the back entrance one can find a front entrance. I walked over in that direction so that I could document one of the most well-marked handicapped access curbs in Minor League Baseball.

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As you can see, it was a really beautiful evening in South Bend! Why wasn’t I aware of this beauty at the time that I was documenting it? Why do I only see such beauty retroactively? Why am I still writing instead of posting a picture?

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I was on the field in order to conduct an interview in the visitor’s dugout.

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This interview, like most interviews I do, was tinged with a patina of ridiculousness. I grilled Bowling Green Hot Rods catcher Geoff Rowan on the Silver Hawks’ pink visiting locker rooms, and he was a good sport about it.

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The results of this interview can be read HERE.  As for the pink locker rooms, we’ll get to those in a moment. But first, Silver Hawks president Joe Hart gave me a brief tour of the concourse and the many recent improvements and additions to be found therein.

Outdoor suites with waitress (or waiter) service:

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The Silver Hawks have installed lava heaters all around the concourse and a fire pit in the outfield , but such heat-providing amenities are of no use in the summertime. On the other end of the spectrum, there are fans for the fans.

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There is also an outfield splash area, complete with changing room.

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Did I mention that it was a beautiful day?

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The outfield “Party Patio,” featuring four person tables separated by lava heaters. This kid, he appears to be waving at me.

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In the above photo, there are two interesting buildings of note. In the background is a massive Studebaker factory, now shuttered, that at its peak employed 21,000 people. In front of that is old Union Station, which has since been converted into a private data center run by Global Access Point. 

This is the back view of the back entrance, with Hart reporting that the team is still working to educate fans on the existence of this entrance. Currently 35% of fans enter the stadium through the back, with the remaining 65% remaining staunch front entrance way adherents.

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Fun Zone!

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Tiki Hut!

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A whole bunch of stuff!

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But perhaps most worthy of gratuitous exclamation points is the abandoned synagogue-turned-team store located in left field. I’ve already written a feature about it on MiLB.com that I’d encourage you to check out, but as you can see it’s a most eye-catching structure (note the star of David on the far left).

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Beneath a refurbished chandelier, fluorescent t-shirts implore its potential wearer to consider his or her hawksomeness factor.

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Not sure where this falls on the delightfully irreverent/irredeemably tacky divide, but I have a feeling it’s closer to the latter of the two.

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The upstairs portion of the store, used as a storage area and not open to the public, is presided over by mannequin sentinels.

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This might be the best picture I took all evening:

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The mannequin sentinels were kind enough to allow me to document their daily view.

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Beautiful views, both inside and out.

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At this point the game was underway, so Hart and I and various other members of our impromptu entourage visited the pink visiting locker rooms. As mentioned before this is something that I’ve already written about, so for more context and commentary please click HERE.

Manager’s office:

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Trainer’s room:

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Lounge area:

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Bathrooms! Showers!

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And finally, the luxury and splendor of the Silver Hawks’ home digs.

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And with that, we moved on. Moving on is what life is all about.

It’s (not so) lonely at the top.

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Down and up, up and down. Soon enough we were back on the concourse, for what turned out to be a prolonged exploration of the food and beverage choices. The evening’s scheduled designated eater, a local radio DJ, was a no-show after getting stuck in Blackhawks championship-related traffic on the way back from Chicago. In his place stepped co-worked Carl Stutsman, a native of Elkhart, Indiana who currently serves as the assistant program director at “Michiana’s News Channel” 95.3 WTRC.

As the “designated eater,” it was Carl’s job to consume the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits. Like designated eater Keirsh Cochran in Lansing, Carl had opted to bring his girlfriend to the game. But unlike in Lansing, Carl’s girlfriend, Paige, chose to remain anonymous.

Welcome, Carl — already in action!

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The Silver Hawks are a client of Professional Sports Catering, the Lansing-based MiLB concessionaire whose offerings were well-documented during my time with the Lugnuts. Well, it’s time to document some more! In the above photo, Carl was biting into a “jalapeno popper” burger, one of the selections available at Burgertopia.

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Damn you, gluten! That thing looked good and I would have loved to have had one.

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“It’s not overpowering, and the cheese really smooths everything out,” reported Carl. “The burger is cooked to a perfect medium rare and, oh, by the way, the pretzel bun is the best part.”

This portion of the evening was overseen by Silver Hawks food and beverage director Ben Hayes (one of two Ben Hayeses in Minor League Baseball, along with the president of the New York-Penn League). Hayes, like his PSC counterpart Brett Telder in Lansing, is extremely passionate about his job and seemed delighted to have the opportunity to showcase his work.

I didn’t get a good picture of Hayes, unfortunately, but he’s clearly a regular at the gym and speaks at a fast pace with relentless energy and enthusiasm. He would make a GREAT infomercial pitchman, and I request that he star in a series of offseason videos highlighting the Silver Hawks food options. So, anyway: Ben Hayes ladies and gentleman.

Ben Hayes:

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“It’s fun knocking out the basic stuff for large groups of people, no doubt about it, but working with high-end ingredients is the best,” said Hayes at one point, shortly after extolling the virtues of a “deconstructed ceviche” he made for team owner Andrew Berlin. “I can put jalapeno caviar on top of a hot dog!”

In the above photo Hayes is about to dish out some selections from the team’s new stir-fry stand. General Tso’s and Mongolian (Ribeye) Beef,

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As modeled by Gutsman:

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Ballpark Chinese is certainly a unique offering, but even more unique is what Hayes came back with next: Duck sausage with Cajun seasoning, produced in nearby Middlebury.

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Those in the know put Stanz Belgian Style Mustard on their duck sausage.

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Gutsman raved about the sweet and spicy taste of the duck sausage, and soon I was able to as well as Hayes brought one over sans-bun. And, sans-bun, you can perhaps get a better sense of how good this thing looked.

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DISCLAIMER: Even if it was sans-bun, I am not 100% sure if the above sausage was gluten-free. Sometimes temptation gets the better of me in such situations, and I’m sorry.

Either way, I look like a moron holding holding this Stanz-drenched duck sausage.

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It seemed that everytime I looked across the table at Carl, he had somehow acquired more food. Kettle corn! Regular popcorn! Philadelphia Steak Nachos!

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The Philadelphia steak nachos were perhaps not completely authentic, in that provolone was the cheese of choice (as opposed to Whiz).  Nonetheless, they looked delicious and Carl and Paige certainly seemed to enjoy them.

But Carl — or more accurately, Hayes — could not be contained. Next up was a Mac and Cheese Dog. Carl praised the “fluffy” mac and steamed bun, but nonetheless reported that “the hot dog is the best part.”

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Like Keirsh Cochran before him, Carl was a skinny guy who could really pack it in.

As he did so I experimented with unorthodox flavor combinations, as legs paraded by in the background.

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But all good things must come to an end. Thanks to Hayes for the culinary hospitality, and thanks to Carl for wolfing it all down.

Carl signs off:

The ballgame was moving on with remarkable alacrity. There was nothing left to do now but document a beautiful evening as it turned into a beautiful night.

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Glow sticks for sale:

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This concourse bubble machine was extremely popular. The kids couldn’t get enough of it!

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Out there by the bubble machine, I spent six seconds of my life providing a #cupdate. Mind you, this is six seconds of my life that I’ll never get back.

Panorama!

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Almost as soon as the game was completed, the stadium’s lighting situation changed dramatically. This…

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changed to this. Glowsticks and fireworks!

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But that’s not all, because that is never all. Run the bases, kids. Run those goshdarn bases.

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South Bend was my last stop on this road trip, and I guess at this juncture I was starting to get a little loopy.

And as my evening in South Bend progressed, things only got loopier. I swear, that bus followed me across the Midwest.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Culinary Concoctions and Concentrated Cuteness in Lansing

Remember that last post I wrote, all of two days ago? It was about the Lansing Lugnuts, and while it featured dozens of photos and 1300+ words it still ended before the ballgame even started.

So, today, let’s pick things up with the ballgame about to start. In Lansing, you KNOW you’re close to that cry of “Play Ball!” when you see this.

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Yep! The team’s relief corps was en route to the bullpen, playing “Follow the Leader” the whole way. Here’s a six second excerpt:

Of course, for FAR more “Follow the Leader” content, you can read my eminently worthwhile MiLB.com piece.

With the game about to begin, I ducked out of the stadium itself in order to document its immediate downtown surroundings. I hadn’t had time to do that previously, and adherence to routine and previously established protocol is crucial to the well-being of my perpetually ramshackle operation.

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Literal Lugnut!

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This was actually taken from outside the stadium, as I did a lap around the premises.

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The Lugnuts’ stadium used to be called “Oldsmobile Park,” a fitting moniker for a stadium in a city where Oldsmobiles were actually produced (over 14 million were made in Lansing, per Wikipedia). But GM stopped producing Oldsmobiles in the midst of the crippling 21st-century economic downturn, and, correspondingly, they also stopped paying for stadium naming rights.

The ballpark is now known as Cooley Law School Stadium…

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but the playing surface has been named “Jackson Field.”

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But the facility is NOT referred to as “Jackson Field at Cooley Law School Stadium,” as these two sponsoring entities must be mentioned independently of one another (violations of this policy are punishable by death).

This all seems a little confusing, and I asked Lugnuts broadcaster Jesse Goldberg-Strassler if he agreed.

“I don’t think people are confused,” he replied. “I think they just say ‘Let’s go to a Lugnuts game!’”

Touche.

My outside wanderings complete, I re-entered Jackson Field at the Facility Formerly Known as Oldsmobile Park that is Now Referred to as Cooley Law School Stadium and — yes! — baseball was indeed taking place.

Let’s go to a Lugnuts game!

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Well, heck. Since I’m already up and about and on my feet and all I may as well do some internal wandering as well.

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As you can see, it was a pretty sparse crowd on the Wednesday evening that I was in attendance. The team is averaging approximately 4400 fans a game this season, but Jesse said that this is merely the middle ground of Lansing’s all or nothing reality.

“We almost never draw 4400,” he said. “It’s either 10 or 11 thousand or one or two thousand.”

C’est la vie. One of the perks of attending a game on a sparse evening is that there is plenty of room for concourse wandering.

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And it was here on the concourse that I met one Keirsh Cochran, a self-described “135 pounds of solid muscle” who, among other things, has inspired the composition of rapturous love songs. 

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When I posted my road trip itinerary this past April I put out a call for “Designated Eaters,” as in: individuals who can sample the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits. Keirsh responded with both speed and enthusiasm:

I am the Marketing and Community Relations intern for the Fort Wayne TinCaps this season. I have been an avid reader for a little over a year. You are a professional hero of mine, so it would be a lifelong regret if I didn’t apply for the June 26th Designated eater spot. You will be in Lansing. The TinCaps will be in Lansing. I can easily make the trip from Fort Wayne to Lansing. You aren’t making the trip to FW this season, I see this as nothing short of destiny, and when destiny knocks at your door and presents an opportunity like this, you reach out and grab it.

Also as a built in incentive to pick me, I have a pooping cow keychain on my promo room key that I believe came from you.

Yes! The pooping cow! You may (but almost definitely don’t) recall my October 2010 post in which I wrote about visiting the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas. During that visit I put 25 cents into this machine, received a pooping cow, and then offered to send this pooping cow to the first person who asked for it.

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The Pooping Cow keychain ended up being sent to the TinCaps front office at the request of  creative director Tony DesPlaines, who then bequeathed it to on-field promotions wizard Abby Naas, who then attached it to the key that unlocks the door to the promo supply room.

“So, if someone needs to get into the promo room they ask ‘Hey, can I get the pooping cow?’” explained Keirsh. “It’s one of the things that makes [Fort Wayne's] Parkview Field Parkview Field.”

Sorry for this absurd tangent, but I love everything about this. The Pooping Cow was purchased in Vegas, brought back to New York, sent to Fort Wayne, and then anecdotally re-entered my life three years later via a professional excursion to Lansing.

Keirsh left the pooping cow back in Fort Wayne, but he didn’t travel to Lansing alone.

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That’s his girlfriend Christie Burd. She currently works full-time at a salon, and is a big fan of the TinCaps as well. Of Keirsh, she says that “I fell in love with him at the ballpark.”

Of Christie and Keirsh, I will say that they are adorable. That’s not a word I use very often, and I hope it doesn’t sound condescending, but they are! Here’s Keirsh without his better half, ready for some serious concession stand indulgence. “I’m the Kobayashi of Minor League Baseball,” he claimed.

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As mentioned in the previous post, Lansing serves as the base of operations for Professional Sports Catering (which currently handles concessions for 14 Minor League clubs). Food and Beverage director Brett Telder uses Cooley Law School Stadium as a proving ground of sorts, in that branded entities that are successful there might then expand to other stadiums who are PSC clients.

It was a slow night, and Telder was more than happy to give Keirsh (and Christie, and me, and basically anyone who wanted to talk enthusiastically about food) a thorough culinary tour. (As mentioned in the last post, this is a dude with the PSC logo tattooed on his forearm. He is very passionate about his job).

We began at Pies, a new pizza stand.

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Telder explained that Pies is a reaction to the thoroughly mediocre pizza served at most Minor League ballparks. At Pies, thin-crust pizzas are baked at 550 degrees for 15 minutes. The result are piping hot, eminently crispy thin-crust creations. Keirsh got one of the day’s specials, a cheeseburger supreme pizza with bacon, tomatoes, cheddar cheese, onions, garlic-infused olive oil and even a ketchup and mustard base.

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Now that I’m gluten-free pizza is obviously something that I can’t have, and in all honestly I wasn’t that much of an aficionado even before changing my diet. But this thing looked awesome! Keirsh reported that “When I closed my eyes, it felt like I was eating a bacon cheeseburger.”

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We then ambled next door to another new addition for  2013, the Blue Olive.

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If it was possible, Telder was even more excited about Blue Olive than he was about Pies.

“We make the hummus on site, drizzle it with olive oil and serve it with chips as well as bread so you can sop it all up at the end,” he said. “It’s about value, and good quality, and food made right before your eyes. It’s all about passion, and I get my satisfaction when I see you eating it because I know you’re going to love it.”

This latest bit of PSC proselytizing occurred as we walked over to his office with an array of Blue Olive platters. From left to right, here’s the hummus platter (for Christie), the gyro (for Keirsh) and the (gluten-free) Greek salad (for gluten-free me).

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Have at it, Keirsh!

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“That first bite, it’s great, you can really taste the spice in the meat,” he said.

Christie, meanwhile, remarked that “I’m not a huge hummus fan but I really love this, so that says something.”

As for me? I didn’t write down any of my quotes, so let’s assume that I said something along the lines of “I hereby declare this Greek Salad to be awesome, to the extent that it has assumed a near physiological primacy on my personal Maslow’s pyramid.”

I wrote down some of Tedler’s quotes, meanwhile, as he held court from behind his desk.

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“You know you’ve made it when you get your own Slushee machine,” said Telder, which you can see there on the bottom right. He’s been a chef for 20 years, coming to the Lugnuts after a stint at Lansing’s now-defunct Cadillac Club. And, yes, as mentioned before he does indeed have a PSC tattoo.

“People ask me ‘Well, what if you get fired?’ And I tell them ‘I won’t get fired.’ I just don’t do that.”

(And, yes, as you can see I smudged up my camera lens at this juncture of the evening).

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Christie and I were ready to call it a day on the food front, but the Kobayashi of Minor League Baseball was ready to keep on going. We walked past Burgertopia, where this was the special on offer…

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and, oh, yeah, right, we also walked by a baseball game that was taking place…

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but we ended up here at Franx, in which “x is substituted for the letter combination of “k-s.” This saves money on signage, as teams are often charged on a per-letter basis.

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Keirsh and Christie didn’t even know I was taking this picture (and — look — another Matt LaWell sighting), but STILL they are being adorable. Keirsh has a big old grin as Christie wipes food debris off of his face.

But anyway, here are the Franx offeringx.

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Keirsh’s choice:

“It tastes like I took a bite out of a hot dog and then scooped out a chunk of baked potato. It sounds weird, hearing that come out of my mouth,” said Keirsh.

“You’re a chef, you’re speaking my language!” replied Telder.

New BFFs:

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Meanwhile, the adorable train kept right on chugging along.

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PAUSE! It’s time for a #Cupdate, in which I provide of a snapshot of collectible plastic drinkware so that a small but passionate subset of readers may obsess over it.

Beer on the left, soda on the right:

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UNPAUSE! Keirsh and Christie had moved on to dessert.

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They opted for a banana split.

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As we sat down I perchanced to look up, and reacted with alacrity after noticing with alarm that ball was traveling toward us. This spheroid hurtling through the air had been hit by Fort Wayne’s Alberth Martinez, representing his sixth home run of the season. I retrieved it, I swear, but immediately tossed it to a kid. That’s why no documentation exists.

I do, however, have documentation of this:

“It’s weird. This was our first baseball date because he’s always working,” said Christie.

“This was a really solid first baseball date,” replied Keirsh.

“I don’t think we’re gonna beat this one,” said Christie.

“I don’t think we will,” echoed Keirsh.

And with that they were gone, adorably disappearing into the night. Replacing them was this individual, who I suppose is adorable in his own right.

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That’s Craig Wieczorkiewicz, aka “The Midwest League Traveler.” If you’ve enjoyed my Midwest League content so far then bookmark Craig’s blog and follow him on Twitter (@MWLTraveler), as he is a cornucopia of news, notes, and anecdotes related to this venerable Class A circuit. I interviewed Craig as well, but I’m having trouble locating the file and this post is hitting the 2000 word mark so that is unfortunately going to have to wait for another day.

And while all this was happening, the home team secured the victory.

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Cue the theme song! Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!

It was almost time to leave, but not before one last goodbye to my pals Jesse, Slavko, and “Sugar.”

And, okay, that’s really all she wrote. Thanks to all involved for a capitol evening!

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benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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