Results tagged ‘ designated eater ’

On the Road: A Winning Oscar Performance in Bluefield

To see all posts from my July 1 visit to the Bluefield Blue Jays, click HERE. To see all my posts from my June/July 2016 Appalachian League Road Trip, click HERE. To see all 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).

If you want to get some food at a Bluefield Blue Jays game — and who wouldn’t? — then this is the place to get it.

img_0012As for where to eat it, you’ve got options. One strong contender is this beer garden, which was added to the ballpark three years ago. Alcohol at Appalachian League games is, at most locales, a relatively recent phenomenon (two teams, Elizabethton and Princeton, still do not serve it).

img_0011On this pleasant Friday evening, I made the acquaintance of longtime Bluefield baseball supporter Oscar Miller. Oscar was my designated eater for the evening, tasked with consuming the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.

img_0026Oscar grew up in nearby Bramwell, West Virginia, where he played basketball as a member of his high school’s “Bramwell Millionaires” basketball team. That team is famed for its undefeated 1967 season, which marked the first campaign in which white and black players played together. Oscar told me that, the year previous, neither the all-white or all-black Millionaires team won a game.

As for why this team was called the “Millionaires” in the first place, Oscar explained that, at one point, Bramwell had more millionaires per capita than any town in the United States. This was due to the rapid rise of the coal industry.

Oscar is a veteran of the Vietnam war who went on to serve 11 years in the Air Force, five in the Navy and then, finally, three more “at home” while in the National Guard. After his military career he became what he calls a “jack of all trades,” working all sorts of jobs at locales around the country. At one point he even took care of an elephant.

“I was in Charleston, West Virginia, and I was looking for a job,” he said. “This guy said, ‘Well, do you want to go on the road?’ You just have to feed [the elephant], buy him grain, care for it. The hardest thing was water. You can’t imagine how much water an elephant can drink. Just about a barrel full. But you could put 18 kids on an elephant, and it was two minutes a ride. If you’ve got an elephant, then you’re making money.”

Through it all, Oscar has always been a baseball fan. He called the sport his “first love”, and went on to play right field and, occasionally, pitch as a youth player. His biggest baseball hero is Hank Aaron, and he is a huge fan of the Cleveland Indians. He’s a member of the Bluefield Blue Jays Booster Club, and attends just about every game at Bowen Field.

Tonight, Oscar’s ballpark meal would be a chili dog along with a “Big Whiskey Barbecue Sandwich,” a new offering courtesy of a partnership with Bluefield’s Big Whiskey BBQ.

img_0023Oscar began with the Big Whiskey, which he had never had before.

“I’m surprised, it’s got a bourbon-like taste to it,” said Oscar, whose favorite local barbecue meal is ribs at The Railyard. “There’s a little bit of honey to it and it’s hot. It’s spicy. I’d get it again.”

img_0024Next up was the Chili Dog, an item that Oscar has enjoyed on hundreds (thousands?) of occasions.

img_0025“The chili dogs are delicious, I get ’em every night. And usually a popcorn, water and Gatorade,” he said. “The meat is real beef, and that helps. I don’t want to eat a hot dog if there’s any suspicion that it’s pork. Just beef.”

During the intervals of our time together when his mouth wasn’t full, I enjoyed hearing about Oscar’s various talents and life experiences. He plays the melodica and, on occasion, writes poetry. He proudly showed me his poem, Your World, which originally appeared in the Bramwell Aristocrat newspaper.

img_0028As Oscar and I spoke, I sipped on a soda. And, yes, this soda was in a souvenir cup that I duly photographed for all you #Cupdate aficionados out there.

img_0030As our time together was winding down, Oscar bought a sizable amount of 50-50 raffle tickets.

“You want an arm’s length,” he said.

img_0029“I enjoyed talking to you,” said Oscar, as we parted ways. “[Bowen Field has] got a really good atmosphere, going on for quite some time. It’s always been a place I want to be. It’s a part of life here, I guess you could say.”

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On the Road: Loving the Bologna in Elizabethton

To see all posts from my June 29 visit to the Elizabethton Twins, click HERE. To see all my posts from my June/July 2016 Appalachian League Road Trip, click HERE. To see all 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). 

As befits a Rookie-level team working out of a small, city-owned ballpark, the Elizabethton Twins offer a fairly limited range of concessions. But what they do, they do well. I learned this during the evening I spent at the team’s Joe O’Brien Field, where the food offerings are served out of “Miss Jane’s Hardball Cafe.”

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I did not sample the food offerings myself, of course. That task fell to Mr. Daniel Buck, my designated eater for the evening. It would be Daniel’s task to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.

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Daniel, who lives in Elizabethton, is a truck driver. He runs the same route each day, working from 4:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., driving from Elizabethton to Roanoke, Virginia and back. He delivers tires while putting significant wear on his own, traveling approximately 1850 miles a week. His route includes stops in locales such as Marion, Chilihowie and Saltville (which, as he pointed out, was “the salt capital of the Confederacy“). Daniel was at the ballgame with his wife, Jennifer, and two and a half-month old grandbaby, Nariah. Yes, grandbaby. (Daniel is the same age as me, and he has a granddaughter. For me to attain grandfather status, I’d have to have some kids first.)

Food and beverage director Bruce Miller presented Daniel with two E-Twins specialties: the Fried Crown Bologna sandwich ($3) and a bratwrust ($4).

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Daniel began with the bologna.

Bruce, who’s been the food and beverage director for seven years, explained that he prioritizes “good stuff and good products” and that the bologna is no exception.

“I get it from a meat company, you can’t buy it like this,” he said, while declining to name the company in question. “They make it for me, cuts that are as big as a hamburger. There’s five or six ounces of bolognan[in each sandwich], and I put a little butter on the bread.”

Daniel was an instantaneous fan of the bologna.

“Well, it was gone fast,” he said, after polishing it off in a matter of minutes. “It wasn’t overcooked, and cut thick. I can’t make ’em like that. I’m breaking out in a sweat, it was so good. That was a Carter County steak, right there.”

Next up was the bratwurst.

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“It’s what you’d expect from a good ol’ ballpark bratwurst,” said Daniel. “It’s got a kick to it. I still love the bologna a little better and that’s saying something.”

img_0203This was all washed down with eastern Tennessee’s “energy drink” of choice, Dr. Enuf. If you’re in the region, you really owe it to yourself to get a Dr. Enuf. It’s got less distribution than Cheerwine, but beloved by those in the know.

img_1708Daniel wasn’t quite done yet. Dessert was deep-fried Oreos topped with vanilla ice cream.

img_0207Are you jealous?

As the above six seconds of video documentation makes clear, Daniel was a fan of the Oreos. More broadly, he was a big fan of all that was served to him during his time in this Joe O’Brien Field “Sky Box.”

“The food’s awesome,” is how he summed it up.

For that, we have Bruce to thank. I caught up with him later in the day and took this picture:

img_1725Thanks, Bruce! And thanks, Daniel.

***

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On the Road: Simple, Cheap and Nostalgic in Bristol

To see all posts from my June 28 visit to the Bristol Pirates, click HERE. To see all my posts from my June/July 2016 Appalachian League Road Trip, click HERE. To see all 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). 

As one would expect from a Rookie-level ballpark operated by volunteers, the concession stand offerings at Bristol’s Boyce Cox Field are fairly limited. The “Fred and Brenda Scott” concession stand is located below the press box, facing outwards toward the field, and staffed by members of community organizations who receive a portion of the evening’s proceeds.

img_0156The view from the concession stand is a good one.

img_0157On this evening my designated eater was a man by the name of Todd Hare. (“Just like a rabbit,” he said of his last name.) It would be his job to consume the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.

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Todd, an Episcopalian priest and father of four, has been in the ministry for the past 21 years. For the past three years he has been based in Johnson City, working with the congregation of the Holy Trinity Church. This has been a homecoming of sorts for Todd, as he grew up in Bristol. And, growing up in Bristol, he was a regular attendee of ballgames at Boyce Cox Field.

“I would come to a lot of games as a kid, when they were [a Detroit Tigers affiliate],” said Todd. “I saw guys like Lance Parrish, Jim Leyland, Darryl Strawberry and Terry Pendleton. I grew up just beyond left field and used to sit behind the fence. These games are sentimental for me.”

Todd and I spent a whopping $6 at the concession stand, which netted us a Frito pie-like “Crow’s Nest” ($3), Chili Dog ($2) and a bottled water ($1). We then convened to the beer garden located down the third base line, a relatively new addition to Boyce Cox Field (which, like most Appy League ballparks, didn’t start selling beer until recently).

img_0160Todd began with the chili dog.

“The chili here comes from the meat market that’s been here since my childhood,” said Todd. “Malcolm’s Meat Market. I grew up knowing the family that owned it, played baseball with their kids in Little League.”

He continued, “It’s spicy, has a little heat but not overpowering. It’s very, very similar to the hot dogs served at the Little League right by the field here, and same as the [adjacent] stadium where I played high school football. It’s a very familiar hot dog.”

Todd finishes up his "very familiar" chili dog.

Todd finishes up his “very familiar” chili dog.

My attempts to find out why the “Crow’s Nest” was named as such were unsuccessful. But it’s a great $3 snack — Fritos topped with salsa, sour cream, shredded cheese, chili and jalapenos.

img_0162“I haven’t had one here, but I’m a really big fan,” said Todd. “There’s just the right amount of cheese and chili.”

Of course, Todd’s brief culinary excursion was highlighted by being within one of his all-time favorite environments.

img_0164“I love the simplicity of a hot dog, mustard and relish, or a chili dog,” he said. “There’s something about hot dogs, peanuts, Cracker Jacks and cold beer or a Coca-Cola that takes me back to childhood and all the smells associated with growing up around this park. It’s real nostalgic.”

***

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On the Road: Classics with a Twist in Greeneville

To see all posts from my June 25 visit to the Greeneville Astros, click HERE. To see all my posts from my June/July 2016 Appalachian League Road Trip, click HERE. To see all 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).

The man in the below photo, his name is Curt Collins.

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Curt is a lawyer based in Greeneville, Tennessee. He has his own law firm, specializing in Family Law, Criminal Law and, as his website points out, “more.” But Curt is a man of many talents, not all of them relegated to the courtroom. During the evening I spent at the Greeneville Astros’ home of Pioneer Park, Curt served as my designated eater (you know, the individual recruited to consume the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits).

You had probably already guessed that Curt was my designated eater, given that, in the above photo, he is posing in front of a formidable spread. He and I (and his wife, Aly, who will appear later) were in a Pioneer Park suite, and Curt is no stranger to such environs. He and Aly attend approximately half of the team’s games, and Curt advertises with the club via a recurring between-inning skit featuring the hapless “Convict Carl.” Fans are advised that if they, like Convict Carl, make a bad decision then Curt is the man to call for legal representation.

But anyway, let’s get back to that spread. The Astros’ concessions are handled by Sodexo, which also provides food service for Tusculum College (Pioneer Park is located on the Tusculum campus). In the below photo there are two (2) of each of the following items: The High Heat Burger, Astro Dog, Corn Dog, and Nachos Supreme (in a team-logo helmet).

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We began with the High Heat Burger. Said heat is brought via Cajun seasoning, pepper jack cheese and the team’s “High Heat” sauce (it’s mayo-based, with some hot peppers in the mix).

IMG_0033Have at it, Curt.

Curt said that the High Heat “had a good flavor to it” but that “you have to like spicy.” Curt likes spicy. He gave it an eight, on what I assume was a 10-point scale.

Next up was the Astro Dog: a hot dog wrapped in brown sugar-crusted bacon and topped with chipotle mayo, tomato, fried onions and a dill pickle spear.

IMG_0034Curt’s love for the Astro Dog is as boundless as the great outdoors. He had to move out of the suite in order to fully appreciate it.

IMG_0035“This is my favorite,” said Curt. “It’s such a good mix of flavors. The fried onions make a difference, and you can’t go wrong with bacon on a hot dog. The brown sugar gives it a little sweetness, and the brown sugar mixed with the chipotle mayo is such a unique combination. That’s what really makes it. The weirdest part is the tomato. I don’t think I’d miss them.”

The next item on the docket was a corn dog.

IMG_0037“It’s a classic corn dog,” said Curt. “I don’t want to say anything negative, but I guess you need the truth: It’s not hand-dipped. It tastes like something I could make in a microwave.”

Another item to consume necessitated another location change. Here, Curt poses with his Nachos Supreme in front of the concession stand from which it can be obtained.

IMG_0043These nachos are made “supreme” via the addition of cheese, chili, sour cream, tomatoes and jalapenos. Curt said that while they were “loaded nachos, for sure,” they were “not loaded down with too much chili to where the chips get soggy. I’m getting to the bottom and they’re all still crispy.”

When we returned to the suite, Astros general manager David Lane was waiting for us with even more helmet-based cuisine.

IMG_0044These ice cream sundaes included both vanilla and chocolate ice cream and were topped with berries, nuts, chocolate syrup and whipped cream. For dessert, Curt was joined by his wife, Aly.

IMG_0049Kurt and Aly met on July 4th, 2012, but didn’t start dating until a year later. They were married this past May. Aly works for the local Boys and Girls Club, which regularly partners with the Astros on community-minded events.

The newlyweds enjoyed their sundaes.

IMG_0051Kurt declared dessert to be “fantastic,” and not just because he got to share it with his beautiful bride.

“It’s like the ultimate sundae,” he said.

And thus concluded this latest adventure in designated eating.

“I don’t want to keep using the word ‘classic’, but that’s exactly what they’ve got here,” said Curt. “Good, classic food.”

***

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On the Road: Bologna, Barbecue and Blooper! in Danville

Before we get into the meat of this post — and there is a lot of meat product in it — a brief update: Over the last several weeks, my Appalachian League articles have proceeded apace on MiLB.com. The most recent article, on the Burlington Royals, can be found HERE. Check the dropdown bar within the piece to see all of my articles from the trip. The only Appy League team I have yet to cover in any capacity is the Danville Braves. Thus, I will jump ahead in the blogging narrative in order to provide this post, on my D-Braves designated eaters.

I’ve been recruiting designated eaters since the 2012 season, and in that time the overwhelming majority of them have been male. Not to stereotype, but men seem to comprise the majority of my readers, and men seem to be more willing to pose for ridiculous photos featuring themselves and Minor League foodstuffs. So let’s hear it for Brooke Robinson and Mary DeFriest, 2016’s first female designated eaters!

In the below photo, Brooke and Mary were photobombed by Blooper!, whose name includes a built-in exclamation mark.

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Brooke and Mary are both currently employed by the Greensboro Grasshoppers, who operate approximately 45 miles southwest of the Danville Braves. Brooke is the team’s coordinator of promotions and community relations; last season she was a promotions assistant for the Corpus Christi Hooks. Originally from Fort Worth, Texas, Brooke said she knew she wanted to work in baseball after attending a Chicago Cubs game at age 5.

“I just loved the atmosphere and wanted to be a part of it,” she said. “I eventually want Bill Murray status. I want to be a team’s director of fun.”

And, yes, Brooke Robinson is named after Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson. She said her dad wrote the third baseman a letter telling him he was going to name his daughter after him, and that Robinson sent back an autograph.

Mary, originally from Great Falls, Virginia, graduated from Indiana University this spring. She then relocated to Greensboro, where she works for Brooke as a promotions and community relations intern. This is her second Minor League Baseball internship as she spent last season with the Tri-City ValleyCats. Mary said she enjoys working in Minor League Baseball because “it’s a creative atmosphere and I’m a creative person, so I thrive in that atmosphere.”

Brooke and Mary were excited to do their part to alleviate the extreme designated eating gender disparity that has existed thus far.

“First of all, it’s all guys all the time,” said Brooke. “And we’re in the business. We do the YMCA every day. We have no shame.”

OK, time to eat! The concession stand lines were very long on this July 3 evening, but fortunately we had a man on the inside. The following spread was presented to Brooke and Mary, and they were psyched to do some designated eating.

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Well, then have at it!

The “Kitzmiller” is a fried bologna sandwich, named for longtime D-Braves assistant general manager Bob Kitzmiller. Kitzmiller, who retired from the team in March, passed away the morning after this ballgame took place. (I learned of his death via a moment of silence prior to July 4’s Burlington Royals game.) Kitzmiller was well-loved at the ballpark and the community; click HERE to read a local newspaper tribute. Far beyond being a bologna sandwich namesake, Kitzmiller made a large impact in Danville’s sports community and the Appalachian League in general.

Brooke and Mary enjoyed their Kitzmillers.

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“I’ve never had bologna cooked this way before, but it tastes pretty good,” said Mary. “I like grilled onions.”

“I’d have been scared to try it, but now that I have I’d definitely get it again,” said Brooke.

Brooke and Mary then cleansed the palate with a beer, which was not a Coors Light despite the usage of a Coors Light cup. My notes say it was a “local orange IPA,” so perhaps it was something from Danville’s 2 Witches Winery and Brewery.

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At any rate, the brew got exceedingly high marks. Mary gave it a “10 out of 10” because it didn’t “have a crazy bite to it” and was “smooth.” Brooke declared that a better beer could not be found outside of her native Texas.

Next up was a Blooper! Dog, featuring mustard, chili and a fried pickle. Extreme close-up!

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Mary: There’s a lot of mustard.

Brooke: The mustard’s on everything.

Mary: The pickle’s so good. Pickle is the key. I kind of want to eat the pickle by itself.

Brooke: My pickle slid out, so I ate the pickle already.

Mary: They should sell pickle fries like this.

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Before moving on to the BBQ Dog, Brooke and Mary sent me on an important errand.

Once you’re done laughing at the above (if you’re ever done laughing), then you can move on to this extreme close-up of the BBQ Dog. Topped with pulled pork and slaw, it is more photogenic than it’s Blooper! Dog counterpart.

IMG_0149A new food item calls for a new pose.

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Once again, a brief conversation ensued.

Mary: I like that it’s not drenched in sauce. Sometimes there’s too much sauce and the bun gets really soggy.

Brooke: And it’s vinegar-based. I would get this.

Mary: I would definitely get this. It’s the perfect combo.

Mary then declared the BBQ Dog to be her favorite item of the night. Brooke went with the Kitzmiller.

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And me? I’m just here for the popcorn.

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Brooke and Mary’s work was done for the evening, meaning they were now free to hang out with old pal Blooper! and new pal Captain America.

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“This was awesome,” said Brooke of the designated eating experience. “I assumed at a smaller ballpark they just had hot dogs. But people should come and try the food here.”

“I’m really thankful for this opportunity and wish it could continue,” said Mary. “I just love food and wish I didn’t have to stop eating.”

I, in turn, thank Brooke and Mary for their designated eating service. It was indeed a great night at the ballpark.

***

This will be the only Appy League post I’ll have time for before embarking on my next trip, which kicks off Aug. 1 in Sacramento. Please accept my apologies for the blogging backlog –it’s been a very busy couple of weeks for me professionally as well as personally. In a nutshell, I’ve had to find a new apartment in NYC and will be moving in on Friday. I leave for my next road trip two days later. Crazy times! 

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On the Road: Winged Pigs and Whiskered Fish in Zebulon

To see all my posts from my May 13 visit to the Carolina Mudcats, click HERE. To see all my posts from my May 2016 Carolinas Road Trip, click HERE. To see all 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).

This guy right here, holding meat in both hands, his name is Sherman Gillespie.

036Sherman lives in Garner, North Carolina, a town located south of Raleigh. He has worked 25 years in the Raleigh police department, holding down a variety of positions through the years. Currently he is a “school resource officer sergeant,” overseeing the officers who are placed within high schools throughout the city.

Sherman is also, not surprisingly, a big Minor League Baseball fan. He is a native of Shelby, North Carolina, and annually takes time off in order to volunteer at the American Legion World Series held at historic Keeter Stadium. Sherman attends approximately 10 Carolina Mudcats games each season and also goes on Minor League ballpark trips with his family. At this particular game  — Friday, May 13th, for those keeping score at home — he was accompanied by his 13-year-old son, Carson.

I am writing about Sherman because he had volunteered to be my designated eater — you know, the individual recruited to eat the ballpark foods that my gluten-free diet prohibits. (The Mudcats do a good job with gluten-free offerings, with GF chicken tenders, Red Bridge beer and GF buns on request. Food and beverage director Dwayne Lucas told me that “Anytime someone has an allergy, we try our best. It’s about accommodating it as many people as possible.”)

Sherman’s culinary journey began with two items I had procured from the concourse-level “Grand Slam BBQ Stand”: Pig Wings ($10) and a Carnitas Tacos platter ($8).

We began with the Pig Wings (aka pork shanks), which Sherman is holding in the above picture. They were accompanied by an order of fries, which tasted spectacular — thick, crispy and dusted with Old Bay seasoning.

033Have at it, Sherman.

“It’s not bad,” said Sherman. “It’s like a chicken wing with a lot more meat. It’s juicy. Tastes just like a chicken thigh, but like eating ribs.”

From there it was on to the Carnitas Tacos platter.

034“The vegetables give it a crunch, it tastes fresh, the meat’s tender and it’s got a good flavor,” said Sherman, who had a lot to chew on.

039Seeing that we were attending a “Mudcats” game, it was only fitting to then get a Catfish Po’Boy ($5). The catfish was crispy and well-cooked, but the accoutrements a little lacking.

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“It’s hot and crunchy, but doesn’t have a lot of flavor,” said Sherman. “It just needs more seasoning.”

As the catfish was being consumed, Sherman was visited by some of his Raleigh PD school resources colleagues. Sherman is their boss, but they were giving him a jovial hard time about all sorts of things and I’m sure they’ll enjoy the pictures in this post. Sherman’s son, Carson, is on the left in the Reading Fightin Phils cap.

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And with that, my time with Sherman and his pals ended. And with this sentence, my Carolinas trip blog posts are now complete. Thanks to all those who’ve followed along, and stay tuned for plenty of posts from my imminent Appalachian League trip.

***

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On the Road: A Culinary Journey in Columbia

To see all my posts from my May 12 visit to the Columbia Fireflies, click HERE. To see all my posts from my May 2016 Carolinas Road Trip, click HERE. To see all 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).

At each Minor League ballpark I visit, I recruit a designated eater to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits. At Columbia’s brand-new Spirit Communications Park, that individual was 16-year-old Carter Blackmon. Carter was attending the game with his Dad, Nathan, a well-known (some would say legendary) figure in the world of Minor League Baseball. He spent eight seasons (1997-2004) as the International League’s assistant to the president before transitioning to a then-fledgling website by the name of MiLB.com. Nathan, officially, is the site’s “director of MiLB initiatives.” If you work in Minor League Baseball, then you probably know him.

049Now let’s get to know Carter, who lives with his Mom and Dad and two sisters (one of whom is his twin) in the town of Waxhaw, North Carolina. Carter is licensed to drive, plays offensive tackle for his high school Parkwood Rebels and says a “perfectly cooked cheeseburger” is his favorite food. Carter also told me that he “likes” to fish, which prompted his Dad to say, “Like to fish? You fish at least three days a week. It’s more than ‘liking.'” Carter then conceded that he loves to fish, and proudly showed pictures of some of his latest bass conquests from the ponds of Waxhaw. The biggest bass he’s caught in the region was eight and a half pounds.

Fish wouldn’t be on the menu tonight, but barbecue was. With Fireflies VP of marketing Abby Naas serving as our guide, we began our journey at the Fireflies’ “Low N Slow” cart.

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From this cart, Carter was given a pair of sandwiches. The Pulled Pork is topped with a sweet and spicy barbecue sauce, utilizing a recipe developed by Fireflies president John Katz. The Beef Brisket has a tangy “Carolina Gold” sauce.

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Have at it, Carter.

“Oh, dang. That’s good,” said Carter, of the pulled pork. “The sauce is excellent — sweet with a little bit of tang at the end.”

He was an even bigger fan of the brisket, as he deemed the Carolina Gold sauce to be “too good for words.”

“If I had to use one word, it’d be ‘extravaganza’,” he continued, after giving the semantics a lot of thought. “It’s like a little mustard and a little barbecue thrown into one.”

Carter is a barbecue aficionado and says that if you’re ever in Waxhaw (hey, you never know), then Jo Jo’s and the Rock Store are both good places to check out. After prompting from his ever-watchful father, he added that “Mom and Dad’s is also a pretty good place to eat.”

Next up was a pair of tacos from the “El Toros” stand, so-named because “toro” means “bull” and the Fireflies’ Spirit Communications Park is located on Bull Street.

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“We go to Salsarita’s a lot, so I’m experienced with tacos,” said Carter, referring to the Mexican restaurant chain. “I love tacos.”

He then showed his love for tacos by tearing right into one. I believe it had chicken in it, while the other one had pork.

064Carter declared the pork taco to be superior, because the “meat was better seasoned” and had an overall “bolder flavor.” Eating the pork taco also led to an important culinary discovery.

“The black beans made it good, too, and usually I have tacos with no beans,” he added.

At this juncture I was called away from my designated eating duties to participate in a karaoke contest atop the dugout. I featured this video in my last post and I’ll feature it again here, as it was one of the greatest triumphs of my life.

The above contest was hosted by Fireflies executive vice president Brad Shank, and upon returning to Carter and Nathan I found that Pork Shank (no relation) was waiting for us. Pork Shank was joined by Tri-Tip Sandwich. Both are available in the upper-level suites.

066 I asked Carter to pose with the tri-tip in the same manner in which he would pose in his football uniform. Focused, determined, unstoppable.

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Carter said the tri-tip “had a nice crust around the meat. The grilled onions were great, and the sauce excellent.”

As for the shanks, I went ahead and tried ’em myself. Carter, meanwhile, played the role of cinematographer.

“Very meaty,” it says in my notes. “Not much seasoning. Tender. Overwhelming.”

(I assume I was writing about the shanks there, and not brainstorming the “About Me” section of my online dating profile.)

Carter was unable to eat dessert, unfortunately, as he still has five years to go before he can legally sample Mocha Chocolate Moonshine and Caramel Moonshine ice cream. This creamy alcoholic dairy product is produced locally by JB’s Pr%f.

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Nathan, ever-helpful, was happy to step in.

Nathan’s impish grin in the above Vine pretty well sums up how the moonshine ice cream tasted.

Speaking of summing up: Carter said that, when it came to the designated eating experience, “Shoot, I don’t have any words. It left me speechless. I started to like new things. It was a journey of discovery.”

And that, at the end of the day, is what it’s all about. Shanks for everything, Carter.

IMG_1353

***

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On the Road: Four Dudes and a Lot of Food in Myrtle Beach

To see all my posts from my May 10 visit to the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, 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).

Prior to embarking on my Carolinas road trip, I did not receive any designated eater volunteers for my evening with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. “Don’t worry,” said the Pelicans (I’m paraphrasing here). “We’ll take care of it.”

Take care of it they most certainly did. Via Facebook, the Pelicans recruited not one but FOUR designated eaters. Not only that, but these four designated eaters got to enjoy a four course (one per inning) concession standvaganza that took the designated eating concept to bold new terrain. Pelicans food and beverage director Brad Leininger and his ballpark kitchen crew are masters of the craft.

I met my four designated eaters at a picnic area located down the first base line, just after the game was underway. Our location was within spitting distance of the “Clark and Addison Grille”, one of many Cubs-themed modifications to the ballpark in the wake of the Pelicans affiliating with Chicago’s National League affiliate prior to the 2015 season.

092When I arrived at our designated location, the designated eaters were already enjoying a variety of cold, canned alcoholic beverages. It was “Craft Beer Tuesday” at TicketReturn.com Field, and, furthermore, the Pelicans had just become the first professional team to add buckets ($30) and growlers ($25) to the daily beverage menu.

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Left to right: cans of Terrapin RecreationAle, Oskar Blues IPA and Palmetto Lowcountry Pilsner

This quartet, from left to right:

Thomas Robinson — A Myrtle Beach native who now lives in-between Myrtle Beach and Wilmington, North Carolina. Thomas is a big baseball fan and, while not yet a Pelicans season ticket holder, he said “I’m going to be.”

Chris Lizio — After working for the Pelicans in 2015 as a production assistant, Chris transitioned to a digital broadcast assistant position at nearby Coastal Carolina University.

Rich Johnson — For over two decades, Rich has hosted The Fishing Line program on New York-area TV and radio. He also spends ample time in the Myrtle Beach area, and particularly enjoys watching the Pelicans on dollar beer nights. “My record is 12,” said Rich. “I don’t drive, of course.”

JD Hewett — JD is a childhood buddy of Thomas; the two played baseball together growing up and now regularly attend Pelicans game. JD, who now lives in Little River, South Carolina, works alternately as a commercial artist, furniture reconditioner and hot dog vendor (selling to a whitewater rafting clientele from the riverbanks of Robbinsville, North Carolina).

The first inning was dedicated to the Pelicans’ Chicago-centric variations of ballpark favorites.

We’ll start with Thomas and Chris.

Thomas, as you saw, had the Chicago Dog. I promise there is a hot dog in there somewhere. It’s just submerged underneath green relish, sport peppers, tomato, a pickle spear, celery salt and who knows what else.

096“It’s awesome,” said Thomas. “The peppers have a good kick and I like the hotness.”

Chris had a “Chicago Deep Dish Pizza Burger.” As the name would imply, it’s a burger featuring a deep-dish pizza bun. I don’t have a standalone quote from Chris regarding this item, which I assume is because his mouth was full.

097Before moving on to Rich and JD, I’d like to give a shout-out to the house made chips that accompanied these items. Thick, crispy, seasoned with Old Bay and accompanied by a dipping sauce whose specifics I forget but which were nonetheless complementary to the overall flavor package.

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Rich and JD, you’re up.

The Double Play Dog is an Italian sausage topped with Italian roast beef and peppers.

099“It’s excellent,” said Rich. “I don’t think of beef on sausage but the two flavors really balance nicely. It’s not in your face. It creeps up on you. It’s got a great kick that dissipates fast, like a chili pepper. It doesn’t linger until the next bite.”

The Polish Sausage is self-explanatory, with the titular meat topped generously with sauteed onions and peppers. I’m going to assume that my lack of a specific quote on this item was once again due to mouths being full. (The vegetable array seen behind the Polish Sausage was universally ignored, the only item all night to receive no interest. Make of that what you will.)

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Everybody was having a great time, and that was only the first course. Beer break!

103Second Inning — Seafood, eat it.

Next up for the boys was an array of coastal cuisine: crab cake, fried clams and fried shrimp along with a heap of fries. The boys were pleased.

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The Pelicans’ crab cakes are sourced from the aptly-named Crab Cake Lady, who operates out of Murrels Inlet, South Carolina.

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In a Facebook post of his own, Rich said that the crab cake may have been the “best thing he ate all night. Tangy, delicious and not much filler at all.” The fried clams and shrimp received general approbation as well, with lack of greasiness and ample meat within the breading cited as distinct positives. Thomas said that the clams were “as good as anything you’ll find in Calabash,” claiming that that particular North Carolina locale set the gold standard for local seafood.

JD is a huge Motorhead fan — just check the shirt — so I thought it was fitting that he was the one who found the “devil shrimp.” #RIPLemmy

IMG_1316Third Inning: 

Bog Balls, a South Carolina specialty, consist of chicken, rice and sausage  mixed together into a ball and fried. They are served with a Sriacha mayo dipping sauce and, as I later learned, are gluten-free (!)

112Chris said that the fried pickles “might be my favorite thing in the ballpark.”  But nonetheless, he made a beeline for the chicken waffle bites. They are fried in waffle batter and come with a side of syrup.  (The sweet potato fries, dusted in cinnamon sugar, were similarly sweet.)

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Thomas went ahead and grabbed the fried bologna sandwich, remarking that “a big cut of bologna is the best way to go. Who doesn’t like a big bologna?” He then made a suggestion to Pelicans food and beverage director Brad Leininger. “Y’know what’d be good on this bologna? A fried egg.”

115With so much food being eaten and so much being said about it, I was finding it hard to keep track of everything that was going on. This Facebook Live video, posted by the Pelicans, illuminates the general scene during this time. These guys were really living it up, in a sort of collective disbelief over how well they were being treated.

Finally, mercifully, we came to the end.

Fourth Inning: Dessert

118Thomas, Chris, JD and Rich were now enjoying birthday cake, chocolate and mint chocolate chip ice cream in a waffle cone bowl.

117But Rich was particularly enamored with this root beer float.

119“I remember being a kid at the Jersey Shore, getting my first kiss to “Light My Fire” and all that. We’d get root beer floats just like this. This is the real deal.”

And then there was funnel cake.

120Chris is a funnel cake man. 
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And lest we forget, a peach bellini made an appearance. JD said that “It reminds me of a Seagrams wine cooler.”

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Postscript: I’ve been recruiting ballpark designated eaters for nearly four years now, beginning shortly after I was diagnosed with celiac disease. Just like anything related to one’s job, I sometimes get cynical about it. It adds a lot of extra work at an already busy time of year, and, truly, you can only ask a guy how a hot dog tastes so many times before it gets a little boring. But I still love the concept, because it gives me a chance to meet people, at every ballpark I visit, who I otherwise wouldn’t. I love getting to tell their stories. And my own cynicism is often trumped, as it was in Myrtle Beach, by the almost giddy enjoyment of the designated eaters themselves. Brad Leininger and Pelicans staffers such as Jen Borowski, Kristen Call, Hunter Horenstein, Andy Milovich (and others, I’m sure) put a lot of effort and coordination toward creating an experience that was truly memorable for all involved.

Rich: The food was so great, I’m not gonna eat for two days. At the gym tomorrow, I’ll be in slow motion.

Chris: This made it even harder to decide what to eat here. Everything is so good.

JD: I couldn’t ask for a better evening at the ballpark. It was great hanging out with you and these guys, and watching Rich drink.

Thomas: This was the best experience I ever had at a ball field. I played ball, but this was the best.

Thanks, guys. It really was a lot of fun.

***

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On the Road: Haute Cuisine and Lowcountry Gourmet in Charleston

The Charleston RiverDogs are known for many things, and chief among those many things is food. As longtime readers of this blog are aware, I have made an annual habit of dedicating a preseason post to their new concession options. And when I last visited Charleston in 2011, food and beverage overseer Jon Schumacher laid out a spread that included a Pimento Pickle Burger, a RiverDog, a Pig on a Stick corn dog, Kitchen Sink Nachos and, of course, the Pickle Dog.

charleston20-20pickledogThe Pickle Dog is no longer offered at RiverDogs game, sadly. And, even more sadly (from my self-centered  perspective) Schumacher has left the team in order to open a restaurant of his own. This new establishment, Harold’s Cabin, is co-owned by RiverDogs co-owners Mike Veeck and Bill Murray.

But the RiverDogs food tradition has been ably carried on by current food and beverage overseer Josh Shea and his assistant Jay Weekley, who continue to roll out new items such as this:

023This may look like a corn dog — which would make sense, because it is — but it’s not just any corn dog. Playing off of one of Charleston’s signature dishes, this is a Shrimp-N-Grit Corn Dog.

Of course, I would not be the one consuming such lowcountry ballpark specialties. That job, as always, goes to my designated eater. In Charleston, this individual was one Frank Monterisi. I took the below photo of Frank before tutoring him in the basics of food posing technique. Namely, do not block the entirety of the foodstuff with one’s hand.

024Frank, originally from New York, moved to North Carolina along with his family in 2003. A graduate of Clemson University, he relocated to Charleston in 2007 and currently works as a math teacher at a community college.

“Teaching runs in the family,” said Frank, a RiverDogs season ticket holder. “Being a math teacher is like being a politician. You walk in on the first day and half the people hate you already. I try to do it so that math isn’t like the other four-letter words that people use.”

There would be no four-letter words used on this evening, math-related or otherwise. As a great man maybe once said, “You can’t talk when your mouth is full.”

The Shrimp-N-Grit Corn Dog was brought to our plastic picnic bench location by Jay Weekley, who explained that it is made with yellow stone grits, smoked gouda and shrimp. This mixture is then breaded in hush puppy batter and served alongside a tomato gravy dipping sauce. Like many items in American retail history, it sells for $9. Weekley said that the team sells approximately 25 per ballgame, “which is pretty good for a brand-new item.”

Frank, who prepared for his designated eating assignment by consuming just five Frosted Mini-Wheats earlier in the day, said that the dipping sauce was “amazing” and that the breading was “not too heavy and not too soft.”

He then washed it all down with two alcoholic milkshakes.

027These might not be much too look at, but they were a lot to taste. On the left is an Apple Pie Shake — Angry Orchard cider and vanilla ice cream mixed with an actual apple pie from Charleston’s Mudd Pie Girl Bakery.

“This is fantastic,” said Frank. “There’s the old saying ‘American as apple pie’ and baseball is the national pastime. So what’s better than an Apple Pie milkshake?”

I think Frank should get a part-time job writing ad copy for the RiverDogs.

On the right is a Palmetto Biscotti Shake — Biscotti cookie dough, vanilla ice cream and Palmetto espresso porter beer. Frank praised the “rich, almost coffee-like taste,” but I think he still had his mind on the Apple Pie Shake.

It was then time to lighten things up via the Harvest Salad, which, par for the Minor League Baseball course, is served in a helmet and feeds 2-3 people.

030“We introduced this last year,” said Weekley. “Everybody seemed to be doing Quadruple Bypass Burgers and things like that, and we wanted to go healthier. We use hydroponic lettuce — it’s never in the soil — hollow out the core, fill it with quinoa and top it with fresh fruit and feta cheese.”

032“A lot of people think of salad as rabbit food,” said Frank, who is not a rabbit. “But the fruit adds a nice element and then you mix it with the cheese, it’s like seven food groups in one. It’s nice to see ballparks going away from the norm.”

But there are many ways in which to deviate from the norm, some ways more healthy than others. Shea soon arrived bearing a Double Chicken and Waffle Burger, and this thing looked so good that I had him explain it for posterity.

“My experiences were high and they were met,” said Frank. “As a Yankee, chicken and waffles have become my favorite food since moving to Charleston.”

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Yankee tasted, Yankee approved.

There was no time for further reflection, for Jay Weekley is a relentless man.

039In Jay’s right hand (on your left, dummy) is a Hawaiian Dog. It is topped with pineapple relish, pineapple, red onions, pickled okra, “a little cilantro grown here at the stadium” and house-made lemon aioli. In Jay’s left hand (that would be your right, hockey puck) is a Southern Kimchi Dog. That one has shredded collard greens, locally-made kimchi, sweet piquant peppers and a ginger-soy dressing.

A closer look, for all you closer-look fiends out there:

038Frank said the Hawaiian Dog has “that sweet and sour taste to it” while the Southern Kimchi Dog was like “an Asian twist on sausage and peppers.”

Frank, like me, is a single man. That makes me an expert in online dating profile pictures, and I do believe that this would be an excellent one. Good luck out there, Frank.

040Things had, by now, crossed over into the realm of the ridiculous. Next up was one of the RiverDogs’ new rice bowls. The Southwestern Chicken Bowl, to be exact, consisting of yellow rice, chipotle chicken, house-made corn salsa, cilantro coleslaw, black beans and lime crema.

I took a closer look. Too close, probably.

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“It’s definitely got a kick to it,” said Frank. “The best way to describe it is ‘Loaded Nachos without the nachos.'”

Loaded Nachos without the Nachos is simply “Loaded”, which is how Frank felt at this juncture.

IMG_1243Fortunately, Frank had hit the end of his designated eating run. Asked to sum up his experience, he snapped to attention delivered a final summation.

“There was food variety for all. Everything’s great.”

Now that I think of it, has anyone checked on Frank recently? For all I know, he could still be passed out on a plastic picnic table. But like most endeavors that end in such a fashion, I’m sure it was all worth it.

***

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On the Road: Living the Sweet Life in Greenville

To see all my posts from my May 8 visit to the Greenville Drive, 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). 

This is Rich Wofford. On Sunday, May 8, Rich and his family attended a Greenville Drive game at Fluor Field so that he could serve as my designated eater (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.

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The above photo was taken outside of an empty Fluor Field suite, where myself, Rich, his family, luxury suites executive chef Rob Hansen and food and beverage manager Kyle May convened for a few innings of food-based reverie.

I’ve mentioned Rich’s family twice already, so I’ll briefly jump ahead in the narrative in order to show a picture of the Wofford clan on the cusp of dessert. From left to right, we have Colton (3), Charlotte (4), Rob, Calum (six months) and Dovie.

046The Woffords live in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Rob works as an accountant for a non-profit organization, while Dovie has a full-time job and then some in her role as stay-at-home mom. (She takes care of “the rats,” as Rob lovingly put it.) This all took place on Mother’s Day, so a happy belated Mother’s Day to Dovie.

Rich is originally from Greenville. He met Dovie while living in Arizona, and moved back to South Carolina three years ago. Despite growing up in Atlanta Braves country, Rich is first and foremost a Boston Red Sox fan. He said that the Sox were his father’s favorite team, and though it was never pushed upon him he nonetheless became a fan during a time in his youth when the Braves “were in a stretch of terrible years.” Rich is also a big fan of Cal Ripken, and said that “Calum” is as close as he could get to convincing Dovie to name one of their children “Calvin.”

The Drive are a Red Sox affiliate, so Rich is particularly enamored with his hometown Minor League team. He said that he and the family attend about seven games a year, watching approximately three innings “before we go to the playground.”

Today, the playground could wait. There was eating to do.

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The above spread was laid out for Rich by Drive food guys Hansen and May. We’ll cover each one individually, but we’ll begin with something not included in the above picture:  The Hot Tot.

CaptureMay explained that the Hot Tot consisted of “salsa, tater tot and shredded cheese on top of a hot dog.” The Hot Tot is among a rotating cast of specialty dogs that the Drive sell on the concourse.

Have at it, Rich.

“It’s a good ballpark hot dog,” said Rich. “There’s not a lot of hot in the tot, but the taters add a nice crunch on the top.”

Charlotte then took a bite.

“It’s good!” she said. “I kind of like the spice.”

I then took the opportunity to conduct a brief interview with Charlotte, a self-assured and witty four-year-old whom Rich has already indoctrinated into Red Sox fandom.
Capture2

Charlotte’s favorite color is pink and her favorite team is (surprise) the Red Sox. After answering these queries she momentarily got distracted by a talking dog video on the scoreboard, but quickly regrouped. The talking dog video had reminded her of her pets — Dribbles the hamster and Dudley the dog — though, unfortunately, “all of them died.” She then went on to tell me that her favorite player is Dustin Pedroia and that if she had all the money in the world she’d buy a Belle dress (Belle being a Disney princess character).

Our interview concluded with me asking Charlotte “What’s the funniest thing that ever happened in your life?” She had an answer at the ready:

“When Daddy said ‘Pull my finger!'”

Rich broke out into peals of embarrassed laughter and immediately asked that this remark be stricken from the record. However, being a brave and honest man, he later consented to have his daughter’s delighted account of his finger-pulling request documented within the public sphere.

Rich Wofford: Finger pullee, American hero

Rich Wofford: Finger pullee, American hero

Anyhow, we were talking about the Drive’s ballpark food options.

This “Triple Crown” slider platter — available in the 500 Club restaurant/bar/group area — was constructed with aplomb. From left to right we have (if my notes are correct) the “Chef”, the “Big Hurt” and the “Sultan of Swat.”

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The Chef, consisting of bacon, cheese and green peppers, was Rich’s favorite. He said that it was an “excellent burger” because the “meat was perfect” and overall it was an excellent combination of ingredients. The Big Hurt — topped with fried jalapenos — got lower marks because it was “spicy, very spicy, to the point where I don’t taste the burger.”

The Sultan of Swat, topped with fried green tomatoes, red onions and pimento cheese, was the most interesting looking of the bunch.

043

Rich was underwhelmed, however.

“There was lots of onion taste, and that’s pretty much it on that one.”

Next, we classed up the joint by tasting the seared tuna (available at the suite level). The tuna, spiced up with a creole-style seasoning, was served atop a bed of greens and accompanied by a sesame ginger sauce and a jicama slaw.

037“If you’re not familiar with jicama, it’s a vegetable kind of like an unripe pear. Pretty mild as far as texture goes,” explained Hansen. “[The slaw] has yellow pepper, red pepper, fresh mint and strawberry.”

I probably ate more of the tuna than anybody. In my notes it says that there is a “Nice spice on the edges. The tuna is tender and the flavor radiates outward.”

Rich said that the tuna was “not what I’d expect to eat at a ballpark, but if I found it I’d eat it. The [sesame ginger] sauce has a nice heat that goes away quickly.”

From the perspective of the Wofford family, the best was most definitely saved for last: Xangos.

038Xangos is (are?) fried cheesecake. The Drive’s version, a “sweet” level specialty, is dusted with cinnamon sugar and served with a chocolate dipping sauce. It got a 100% Wofford approval rating, summed up by Rich’s assessment that “I don’t know how to describe it other than ‘perfect.'” It even put a momentary stop to Calum’s crying, leading Rich to deem it a “baby husher.”

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Xangos: Wofford family tested, Wofford family approved

The dessert based reverie could only last so long, as Calum, though no longer crying, summarily threw up on Rich.. Assessing himself as his family prepared for departure, he noted “This would definitely be the ‘after’ picture. I’m covered in chocolate sauce and baby barf.”

The Wofford family then left the suite, moving on to their far more familiar playground environment. There, the kids would find swings to swing upon, slides to slide upon and, hopefully, fingers to pull upon.

***

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