Results tagged ‘ designated eater ’

On the Road: On Top of the Action in Visalia

Part one of this current mini-saga was good for what Visalia, as it detailed the charming quirks, historical markers and reptilian wrath appeasement efforts to be found throughout Rawhide Ballpark. We now pick up where we left off, with the game having just begun.

A modest Sunday evening crowd had filtered in, many of them settling atop the gunite slab of a grandstand (Rawhide Ballpark has just fewer than 2000 fixed seats, the smallest total in affiliated professional baseball).

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The ballpark features minuscule amounts of foul territory, meaning that concourse vantage points are very close to the action. And the dugout view is particularly unique, in that you can look straight down on the players below.

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As for looking down into the dugouts, this Vine video should illustrate my point. (Also, I like that it captures an audio snippet of someone saying “Colt 45.” I have no idea what this was a reference to as neither guns nor malt liquor are sold at the ballpark.)

The up close and personal nature of the ballpark also means that you can hear just about everything that is said. While I was standing here Rancho Cucamonga hitting coach Johnny Washington, who was coaching first base at the time, ambled over to the dugout and said something to the effect of “Did you check the [expletive deleted] outfield? That’s a [expletive deleted] horse [expletive deleted] lead. That’s [expletive deleted] terrible! C’mon!”

Kids, take it from me: if you want to take your profanity game to the next level,  then hang out near the dugout at Rawhide Ballpark when the Quakes are in town.

But let’s take things back in to the realm of the family-friendly. Here’s Tipper, the Rawhide mascot (I’m kicking myself now, for neglecting to include him in one of my boVine videos).

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A local cheerleading squad was on hand, performing before the game as well as several times during it. Between routines they practiced on the Pasture, which increased the evening’s “charming Americana” factor by 1.5.

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A photo collage along the front entrance gates features this absolutely classic moment, from the Rawhide’s absolutely classic “Belle of the Ballpark” promo. (I wrote about the 2011 iteration HERE).

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The above photo is across the way from, yes, the best gunite-coated dirt slab to be found in all of Minor League Baseball. Here’s yet another look at it:

080But back to the concourse, because I’m not quite sure how I got away from there in the first place. Looking across the way toward the home dugout, I was intrigued by what looked like a painted white cross on the wall. While trying to land a picture of the cross, I instead got this image of crotch-grabbing in action.

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And, yes, that is a large white cross painted on the dugout wall. I forgot to get the background story on why it’s there, but it seems out of place within the ostensibly secular confines of the ballpark. (This picture also gives a good indication of the extent to which the concourse is literally atop the dugouts.)

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Perhaps the most famous denizen to be found within the home dugout is batboy Les Kissick. He’s held the job for 14 years, and when I first posted the following Vine video it was met with a stream of responses from Visalia diehards along the lines of “Les!!! He’s the best!!!”

Meanwhile, one could find guest emcee Chad Stafford, a DJ on Visalia country station KJUG, patrolling the concourse.

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Chad had another duty to perform on this particular evening, as the Rawhide had recruited him to serve as the designated eater. (You know, the individual who consumes and critiques the ballpark delicacies that my gluten-free diet prohibits.) He and I soon adjourned to the Hall of Fame Club, where food and beverage director Chris Lukasiewicz was waiting with an array of items.

Welcome Chad and, yes,  welcome giant pretzel.

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That’s the Texas Twist, a 24 ounce monster whose holes are filled with warm cups of nacho cheese. Chad gave it a try and reported that “it might be a little too salty, but it’s soft on the inside. For one person it’s a bit excessive, but it’s great for a lot of people to share.”

There’s no doubt that this would be way too much pretzel for one person, but nonetheless the Rawhide have devised a “Texas Twist Challenge” that is open to all fans. Lukasiewicz carved out six seconds of his life in order to offer the following explanation:

Meanwhile, I was presented with this off-menu offering, which Lukasiewicz often prepares for the gluten-free girlfriend of a Rawhide front office staffer.

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That’s a “Fajita Dog” bratwurst with garlic aioli sauce atop a bed of peppers, onions, melted Montery Jack cheese and fries which have themselves been tossed in fresh minced garlic.

I approve!

Chad, meanwhile, approved of the burger that had just been presented to him.

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That’s the “Cowboy Burger,” to be exact, topped with Kinder’s BBQ sauce, cheese, three slices of Applewood bacon and two onion rings.

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Chad, a BBQ aficionado, said that he liked the Cowboy Burger because “the onion rings are great and whatever cheese they use is perfect for it.”

But as for what cheese that is, I neglected to find out. It shall always remain a mystery.

Less of a mystery is this, the final item to be highlighted:

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Those nachos are of the “loaded asada” variety: nacho cheese, shredded cheese, salsa, dried onion, jalapenos and your choice of meat.

“The salsa, that’s the kicker,” said Chad, who’s been a presence on the Visalia airwaves over the last eight years. “And it’s all covered, which is just how I like it.”

Also all covered is the food portion of the evening. Thanks to Lukasiewicz and thanks, of course, to Chad.

Out on the concourse I struck up a conversation with Rawhide community relations manager/Hispanic marketing manager/on-field emcee Jesus Romero (he of the gluten-free girlfriend). As you can see, Jesus is loyal to his employer.

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With the game in its final third, I slowed my pace and did a final lap around the ballpark.

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I then settled into a seat in Row M, the highest vantage point available at Rawhide Ballpark (save for the skyboxes).

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Or, if awkwardly conceived panoramas are more your thing:

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The ballgame was tied entering the bottom of the ninth inning, meaning that it time for a visit from Jesus Romero and the Rally Squad.

The Rally Squad are great at their jobs, as in the bottom of the ninth inning this place was rocking! Visalia fans know how to support the hometown team.

And with the place a rocking the Rawhide offense came a knockin,’ as Tom Belza singled to lead off the inning and, two batters later, scored on a Sean Jamieson single. It was a good day to be a Rawhide fan and, thus, a good day for me to have visited.

As the crowd filed out I paid one last visit to team broadcaster/historian/reptile hex articulator Donny Baarns, whose computer screen displayed a list of dozens of ways to say “here’s the pitch.” Perhaps he should get a copy of The Baseball Thesaurus?

100As Donny took his listeners through the ups and downs of the ballgame, I watched the last “run the bases” straggler finally reach home plate.

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And that was all that she wrote (she being me, of course).

Gunite from Visalia!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: A Blogging Ouroboros in Wisconsin

Like a snake eating its own tail, this series of Midwest League “On the Road” posts shall end where it began: in Appleton, WI, home of a snake entity that avoids tail devourance whenever possible. That entity is the Timber Rattlers and, as you may recall, I spent two nights with the team but only documented one of them (in two parts) before moving on to other stops on my itinerary. Today, we document night two, in one part.

This all makes sense. Just believe.

My second evening in Appleton was “Salute to Outdoors Night,” and the outdoors were saluted thusly:

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Flaunt that cash

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Still flauntin’

 The team wore these theme jerseys, and fans had the opportunity to bid on them. I wonder how many bucks they ended up going for?

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And if exotic jerky is your thing, then you were in luck.

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My work day began with an interview, as I talked to this triumvirate of bullpen denizens about their money-making “Quarter Game” scheme that I had observed the evening before.

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That’s Jonathan Marmold, thee Mike Strong, and Taylor Wall, a good humored group of guys. My interview with them became part one of the Midwest League bullpen trilogy, which will almost certainly net me a Pulitzer or at the very least recognition from the sports media world at large. (Hi guys!) If you haven’t read it then please do so! 

Timber Rattlers broadcaster Chris Mehring arranged the above interview, and I then turned the table by interviewing him. Chris is the dean of the Midwest League and a storehouse of pop culture ephemera, truly one of the most interesting people in Minor League Baseball. It was he who suggested the word “ouroboros” to describe this blog post, and it was he who closed the interview with a pitch-perfect Sledge Hammer! reference. 

Chris is too elusive to be photographed, but the Timber Rattlers players were easy to capture. This is why I went to Wisconsin in the first place, because so many people extolled the virtues of the dairy air.

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I was in the dugout at the time the game started because I had been recruited to be a contestant in the nightly “Super Ropes Super Pull” contest. This is me and my opponent, whose name I unfortunately I cannot recall.

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Show time!

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This game is intense! I’m still kind of sore from it.

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Did any of this make sense to you? Me neither! Perhaps this video will help:

Yes, I lost. It was something I needed to get used to, because after the Super Rope Super Pull I remained in the dugout in order to compete in yet another on-field contest. In this one I was pitted against Timber Rattlers hitting coach Dusty Rhodes in a duck calling contest. This gave us a chance to utilize the, yes, duck calls that were given to fans as they entered the stadium on this fine evening of outdoors salutation.

I’ve never gone hunting before. I had no idea what I was doing, and ended up looking like a duck call was perhaps something one smoked out of.

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This was a set-up, as Dusty Rhodes turned out to be some sort of duck calling virtuoso. I wish that I had video, because he had sounds coming out of that thing that I wouldn’t have thought possible.

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Fang and I, we were not worthy.

Nice appendages, snake.

Nice appendages, snake.

But don’t worry, there were still plenty more opportunities for humiliation. As soon as my duck calling stint was over, I was ushered over to a storage area beyond the outfield so that I could suit up as a contestant in the nightly Merkts cheese race.

I was sharp cheddar.

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080One of my competitors.

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While waiting for our moment in the spotlight, I made some friends.

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Off to the races!

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Once again, the video shall tell the tale.

As you can see in the video, Timber Rattlers evil mascot Gnaf made a rare appearance. If you’re a fan of inane wordplay, anemic putdowns, and exaggerated self-confidence as a means to disguise intense self-loathing then make sure to follow Gnaf on Twitter! 

The Timber Rattlers had much more “Outdoors Night” shenanigans going on throughout the evening, as this photo that appeared on the team’s Facebook page illustrates.

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But for me it was time for a change of pace. The day before myself and an affable designated eating duo had spent a lot of time sampling the team’s concession offerings, but little did I know that there was WAY more where that came from. Fox Cities Stadium underwent a lot of renovations over the past year, and one of the most notable additions was an upstairs club level featuring “upscale” ballpark food (as in you eat it, and then the numbers on the scale go up!)

Here’s the menu, created under the expert guidance of chef Timothy Hansen.

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I sat down at a table and was soon rendered speechless as Hansen and co. brought out a dizzying array of dishes. Some were from the menu above and some are only available when the team hosts private events such as wedding receptions, but all looked delicious.

And many of these dishes were gluten-free. I was starting to get excited!

The above items soon had many companions.

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The centerpiece there is a “shrimp ceviche martini,” excellently prepared with a citrus-y salsa-style sauce. To the left of that is sesame tuna on endive with pineapple salsa (!) and then, moving clockwise: a BLT wedge salad (romaine lettuce, peppercorn ranch dressing, chopped pepper bacon, tomatoes and scallions), Caribbean jerk wings (gluten free ingredients!), Philly cheese cake (sredded ribeye, peppers, onions and nacho cheese on an Amoroso roll, and a crab cake sandwich with a side of remoulade.

Oh, and soon this Caesar salad with blackened salmon appeared! Just so we’re clear, all of this was prepared onsite at a Class A Minor League Baseball stadium.

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I couldn’t help but nibble on the many exemplary gluten-free offerings, but I kept in control.

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I was waiting for my designated eater — you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark delicacies that my gluten-free diet prohibits. In this case this individual was one Jim Meulendyke, who worked for the team in 2011 and 2012 (as an intern and then in group sales). Jim now lives in Minnesota (“I left Minor League Baseball for a girl,” he told me) and was in town for a visit.

Jim was making the most of this visit — when I was waiting for him upstairs, he was on the field taking part in a dancing grounds crew routine. I watched it on TV:

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 That’s Jim on the left:

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And — hey! — here he is, just after taking a big bite of crab cake.

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Jim was really enthusiastic about the food, and also one of the most articulate designated eaters I’ve worked with so far.

“You can taste the crab but its not overpowering,” he said. “But the sauce, the sauce is so good. The bun is really good but it’s the sauce that wins me over. It’s got a little kick to it, and complements the crab so well.”

Next was the cheesesteak.

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“Holy [Schmidt] that’s tasty! Oh that cheese is so good and this is melt in your mouth steak!” exclaimed Jim. “Sometimes Philly steak is too chewy and you find yourself battling it but with this all the flavors are simultaneous, and with that little bit of pepper and onion it is just perfect. Oh, crap, that is good. This is like heaven.”

And with that, Jim Meulendyke is a strong contender to win the coveted honor of “best designated eating quote of 2013.”

Oh, and how ’bout some Caribbean wings?

Already devoured

Already devoured

“At first it tastes good, but I was thinking that if you’re going to go Caribbean then you’ve got to have more kick to it,” said Jim. “But as I set the bone down and was going for wing number two, it started to feel like a sauna in my mouth. It’s an awesome taste, that straight jerk style, it settles in and makes a home.”

The Jim Meulendyke power rankings:

After bidding goodbye to Jim and chef Hansen (who clearly does excellent work), I had just enough time to utilize the duck call.

As the desultory sounds of faux duck echoed through the stands, the visitors emerged with a victory.

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There was a post-game concert in the club level, so I unwound from yet another action-packed evening with a (very generously poured) Jameson on the rocks (sponsor me, Jameson!) and listened to the music.

112 Outdoors Night was a success.

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Also a success was this Midwest League road trip, which provided me with more and better content than any trip I’ve ever gone on. Ever. Thanks to all involved for making it so action-packed and enjoyable, and stay tuned for the next trip!

August 3 – Bakersfield Blaze

August 4 — Visalia Rawhide

August 5 – Fresno Grizzlies

August 6 – Modesto Nuts

August 7 – Stockton Ports

August 8 – Reno Aces

August 9 — Travel — (Crater Lake!)

August 10 and 11 — Hillsboro Hops

This one’s going to be epic, I think. Get in touch with any all suggestions regarding how I should spend my time while out West.

But until then, THIS CANNOT BE LOUD ENOUGH!!! IT CAN NEVER BE LOUD ENOUGH!!!

Mugstar are the best band ever to emerge from Liverpool and their music sounds like my brain.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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

On the Road: Sounds Like a Good Time in Nashville

I visited Nashville’s Greer Stadium on Thursday, May 9th. The Sounds were expecting me:

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Two days later I was asked by another writer, via Twitter, my thoughts on the ballpark and my 140-character summation was as follows:

“It’s a bit of a dump and inadequate for the needs of such a large market…BUT…it’s got a ramshackle charm that I really enjoy.”

I stand by that sentiment, which isn’t surprising since said sentiment is, as I type this in a Savannah hotel room, less than 24 hours old. Greer Stadium — 35 years old and showing its age — is no one’s idea of an ideal facility (especially in a major market that boasts the NFL, NHL and a plethora of top-flight cultural attractions). But until that far away and as of now theoretical day when a new downtown stadium gets built, this out of the way anomaly will have to do. And I, for one, think it does just fine. If you like ramshackle charm — yes, three paragraphs in and I’m already quoting myself — then I think you’ll like it too.

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037The area surrounding the stadium is rather hilly (Fort Negley, built by occupying Union forces during the Civil War, sits adjacent), and while walking in and around Greer one often has the feeling of  not being totally on the level. Upon entering the stadium the concrete slopes downward quite sharply, which, on this particular occasion, led fans directly to a box of underwear.

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The briefs were being given away by Gildan, a Triple-A baseball sponsor, who were asking fans to take Instagram pictures during the game tagged #gildanfavorites. What a life this gentleman in the middle of the picture has had — from serving in Korea and Vietnam to being given free underwear at a Minor League Baseball game as part of a social media initiative. I bet he was Instagramming all night long.

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From the concourse to the press box, where I took the first of many photos that includes Greer’s iconic guitar scoreboard. No strings attached!

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Per the team: The guitar-shaped scoreboard is a fan favorite for all who come to Greer Stadium. Its total width is nearly 116 feet — 60′ (guitar body), 36′ (scoreboard/neck), 19.6′ (turning key section). The height is 53′ and depth is 24″.

The vast expanse of seats, just waiting for the throngs of “Throwback Thursday” fans ($5 admission w/coupon and $2 beer, soda and concession items, all while the team wears its throwback blue jerseys).

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Some of these seats are in better shape than others. These, down the third base line, are a tad sunbleached.

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I briefly ascended to the top of the stadium to check out the view from Slugger’s (a bar and restaurant open to all fans).

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These elevated meanderings were cut short however, as I had urgent business to attend to on the ground level. My media pass was contingent upon being a contestant in the nightly Tire Race.

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As the game began, I, media relations director Alex Wassel, and my fellow tire race qualifiers were crouched in the aisle while waiting for our  big racing moment. I took a few pictures from this vantage point.

The National Anthem, as sung by a burly trio known as The Kentucky Lineman (far left, their arms around one another).

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With the game underway, it’s time to play a game within a game called “Can you name that Fresno Grizzlie head”? There are nine heads in this picture, please list who they belong to (left to right) and leave your answer in the comments section. There is no prize, and I don’t know the answer, but, please, just do it, just because.

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Throwback Thursday, underway!

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The fans, from the get-go, were rooting for Fresno to go down in de-feet.

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With that burst of photographic artfulness out of the way, I handed my camera to Wassel so that he could document the tire race exploits.

What, me Ozzie?

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How it went down:

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Yes, that dude totally wiped out at second base and still won.

I checked my phone after the race and saw that I had an urgent text from one Heather Beshore: “I’m hungry!”

Heather was to be the evening’s designated eater, and if you’re new to the blog (the most underrated enterprise in all of sports media)  then let me explain: I have recruited a “designated eater” at each ballpark that I visit, and this individual is tasked with eating the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet does not allow (I was diagnosed with celiac disease last season. Waaaah).

I was put in touch with Heather after recieving an email from her boyfriend, Chris, who is also eating gluten-free these days. She’s a Florida native who came to Nashville for grad school and then decided to stay, and her job currently has something to do with 401K plans (she didn’t provide many details, in favor of eating a hamburger).

“Chris is from Wisconsin and he loves the Brewers [the Sounds' parent club], so when he comes here he’s really into the baseball,” said Heather. “Me, I just come for the food!”

True to form, then, Chris opted to stay downstairs and watch baseball while Heather and I went up to Slugger’s.

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Heather B, not to be confused with the season one Real World star of the same name

That’s Heather with an “Ozzie Burger” and a Blue Moon, which we had procured at the concourse-level Bullpen Burgers. (Her favorite Greer Stadium food option, The Dog Pound, was unfortunately closed for the evening).

Not available!

Not available!

So, yes, the burger it was. It was falling apart from the get-go.

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As for the Ozzie Burger, Heather was non-plussed.

“I’d give it a 5 or a 6,” she said. “It’s juicy, and a little messy, but it lacks the spice and charm of a home-made burger. It’s a little too generic.”

She also helpfully explained that, even though the burger is named after Ozzie the mascot, “it does not taste like cat.”

BUT! She then raved about a prior experience with Slugger’s BBQ Pork Nachos, so I grabbed an order of those as well.

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Heather, as you can see, was hesitant to be documented in mid-bite. That’s fine! This whole “designated eater” thing is an experiment, and for now I don’t really have any rules with it. I’m just glad people are willing to do it, and it’s been a fun way to meet a new person at every ballpark. Heather was relaxed and engaging and had a great sense of humor about the whole thing.

She also had a lot of nachos (okay, I may have had some as well, trying to avoid the gluten-ous processed cheese).

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“I’m still very happy even though I’m full,” said Heather. “I’m happy I had food, and I’m happy I ate it.”

Well said!

Okay, back to the game action.

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The usual shenanigans:

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Scooter vs. the Scoreboard (long-time readers and/or Appletonians might get that reference).

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I may have totally misheard, but I’m pretty sure these bullpen denizens were debating the merits of various Norman Lear-produced sitcoms.

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“Dude, Maude is the best spin-off of all-time.”

Following Ozzie’s pawprints, I took a walk through the concourse. Although I missed the chance to take a picture of them, I soon was greeted by two goofy white kids about 12 years of age.

“Hello, sir, I am Chief Keef,” said one.

“I am Waka Flaka,” said the other. “Please buy my album.”

But anyway. Pictures of the ramshackle charm in full effect.

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Let it be known that, on this particular evening, the Pacific Coast League’s Pacific Southern Division was as close as it could possibly be. Almost.

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Those teams, like these people, are back-to-back-back-to-back.

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My wanderings led me to the other side of the ballpark, shockingly enough, and, even more shockingly, a game was still going on.

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The Greer Garden has seen better days, it appears.

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Despite being a decent crowd overall, it was totally deserted in this beyond-the-outfield area. I made a Vine video expressing my profound feeling of isolation, and hope that you may devote six seconds to it. (Follow me on Twitter — @bensbiz — to see all Vine videos as soon as they are posted).

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Back in civilization! I love the enthusiasm of these women, who were playing a “Choose the Box” game that netted Becky (in the Pirates jersey) Sounds tickets and a Burger King gift card. So much emotion!

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Rat Patrol in the house!

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(Later in the evening I saw a member of Rat Patrol in the restroom, so I lingered by the sink so that I could ask a few questions about the organization. But, of course, the dude opted not to wash his hands and, looking back, it was very naive of me to have assumed otherwise.)

On a similarly rock n roll note: the day before, Jack White had been in attendance along with employees of his Nashville-based Third Man record label. (Also, a record-pressing plant is located across the street from the stadium!) This picture later surfaced on Third Man’s Instagram page, although it was free from any underwear-related taggings:

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I spent the last two innings with Adam Hayes, a video intern for the Milwaukee Brewers who, using a thing called technology, extensively documents every Sounds home game.

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For more on Hayes and how he operates, read my MiLB.com story! That is not a request, but a demand.

The game concluded with an 11-7 Sounds victory, and as the stadium was emptying out I ran into Dave Clark and Doug Cornfield, from the Dave Clark Foundation. You may remember them from my Fort Myers visit from last season, and/or my story on the “Special Needs Baseball Camp” for disabled youth. They were in town to run a disability camp at Greer Stadium over the weekend –a worthwhile cause, and more will be held at Minor League parks throughout the season. Always worth supporting!

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So, anyway, to sum it up: If ramshackle charm is your thing then get thee to Greer!

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benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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