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On the Road: Dancing and Digging with Fellow Travelers in Arkansas

Yesterday’s post barely scratched the surface of my Arkansas Travelers experience, seeing as how it concluded with the game’s first pitch. Now it’s time to dive in, headfirst, to part II!

I was in the press box for the singing of the National Anthem…

and then it was time to — yes — Play Ball! It sure took long enough!

And with the game finally, mercifully, underway, I commenced to wandering. I hadn’t yet worked up an appetite, but couldn’t help but take note of the various concourse food options.

Premium popsicles, courtesy of “Le Pops.” I really should have ordered a salted caramel!

The more standard concessions were all reasonably priced, and this is one the hallmarks of the Dickey-Stephens experience ($3 hot dog, $3.50 sausage, $3.75 nachos, etc).

The open-air wandering was good for both soul and constitution, and provided pleasing vantage points aplenty.

But soon I returned to the press box, for this is my destiny. For the sixth (and final) time on this trip, I spent an inning on the radio (I’ll forgive the Springfield Cardinals for being the only team not to extend the invitation).

Here’s the view from the booth, presided over by RJ Hawk (left) and Phil Elson. One of the topics was the impending post-game Diamond Dig, which Hawk was slated to MC. He informed me that it would be an excellent place to meet young single women, and my last words on the air were “I’m gonna get married tonight.” It didn’t happen, but — foreshadowing alert! — there were indeed single women aplenty and they were beautiful.

I’ve been a fan of Elson’s broadcast work ever since 2005, when I listened to him call the controversial ending of that year’s Texas League Championship Series between Arkansas and Midland. Here’s how I described it in a 2007 MiLB.com article:

The Travelers were trailing with two outs in the bottom of the ninth with the bases empty when Jason Aspito came to the plate representing Arkansas’ last hope. The left fielder worked the count full, and then took ball four. Except plate umpire Steve Fritzoni had apparently lost track of the count and ordered Aspito back into the batter’s box. He struck out on the next pitch — on a 4-2 count! — handing the RockHounds a season-ending championship victory.

Elson was furious at this turn of events, and bitterly  spit out the phrase “Have a nice career, Fritzoni!” That has since become a personal motto of mine, whenever I (or someone around me) messes up. “Have a nice career, Fritzoni!” I say to myself.

I’ll end this nerdy digression by turning to something even nerdier, which I know a portion of my readership will be deeply interested in: a Texas League memo regarding proper conduct toward official scorers:

The next order of business – and I’m all business on these trips — was a concourse interview with assistant park superintendent Reggie Temple. In addition to his official job duties, Reggie spends the bulk of every game washing and detailing cars in the parking lot. (This side business is known as “Reasonable Reggie’s Car Wash” and his oft-stated motto is “Gimme Your Keys!”)

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Reggie Temple.

But that’s not all. Of course not. Reggie is also an accomplished and enthusiastic roller skater, and he brings his skates to the ballpark with him. Throughout our conversation, he would stop and dance whenever snippets of music played over the PA.

The funny thing about Reggie was that he didn’t seem to be showing off for me, or anyone. He was totally nonchalant and business-like, like “Music comes on, I skate. That’s what I do.” (More on Reggie in my MiLB.com piece).

My Reggie rendezvous occurred just outside of the “Travelers Baseball Museum,” so naturally that was my next destination. It is what its name implies — an area packed to the gills with memorabilia from Little Rock’s long and distinguished professional baseball history.

This cartoon good-naturedly pokes fun at legendary Travelers owner and operator Bill Valentine (now retired).

And here’s Valentine’s desk, from old Ray Winder Field.

A few more museum shots:

Okay, now it was time to eat. Travs general manager Pete Laven had told me that the team sold a “Deer Dog” (as in, venison), a locally-made creation that alluded to the prevalence of hunting in the Arkansas region. I did a quick run-through of the concourse in search of one, but, somehow, failed. It’s my fault — it was getting late in the game at this point, and I had wanted to make it back to the press box in time for the seventh-inning stretch.

So, as is so often the case in life, I settled for a big ol’ corn dog. (Like my Yuengling in Jackson, this corn dog had a special significance to me,  and I’ll explain why in my next post. It will be a “very special” edition of Ben’s Biz Blog, don’t miss it).

C.D. in the P.B.:

The seventh-inning stretch is sung by Elson himself, and he takes these duties very seriously. Here he is, plunging the depths of the soul, waiting for the sound of the organ to waft through the ballpark.

And, truly, he really belts it out, with the last note of the song sustained for a good 15 seconds or so. Perhaps a video will one day emerge, but this is all I’ve got.

I spent the remainder of the ballgame speaking with (and being interviewed by) Matt and Carolyn LaWell. They are a 20-something married couple in the midst of a season-long trek through the entirety of (full-season) Minor League Baseball, and their dispatches from the road are chronicled at their website aminorleagueseason.com. They are truly skilled and committed writers, and it was a fortunate (although not entirely surprising) happenstance that our paths ended up crossing. I’ll have a little more on them later, but the next order of business was something truly special.

The post-game Diamond Dig! This is a Minor League promotional staple, in which the women in attendance (18 and over) are invited on to the field post-game in order to dig (with a plastic spoon) for a small box buried in the infield dirt. And this box? It contains a diamond ring.  As soon as the game ended, the combatants lined up for their shot at post-game treasure.

In the following shot, the individuals with the cameras are the aforementioned Matt and Carolyn LaWell.

The women soon streamed forth onto the infield, and then patiently waited for the announcement that it was time to start digging.

And…begin!

I will take a conservative approach regarding which, and how many, photos I post here, but I would like to say that I was truly astounded by the number of beautiful women who were on the field. Like, this is just who happens to be in Little Rock for a Minor League Baseball game on a Thursday night? It was amazing.

After about 10 minutes of fruitless digging, Hawk (the MC) gave the clue that the diamond could be found on the right side of the infield. A migration ensued:

The digging then resumed in earnest, but soon there was commotion from just beyond second base. Heads began to turn in that general location…

and for good reason! The diamond had been found!

I made my way through the scrum to get a closer look…

and — YES! — there it was in all its glory! Here’s the winner, looking both relieved and elated.

This woman was a skilled competitor. If you go all the way back to my first Diamond Dig photo, of the women waiting on the stairs, you’ll see that she was first in line and plotting her strategy. Congrats!

And now the evening — and my road trip — was finally over. But I was in no hurry to leave. I watched the indefatigable interns clean the stands, before retiring to their on-site apartment for the evening.

And then snapped a photo of the LaWells in the home dugout.

But it all ended with this photo, as accurate a summation of the Minor League life as there ever was.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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