Results tagged ‘ Eastern League ’

On the Road: Father, son and lobster in Portland

To see all posts from my September 4, 2015 visit to the Portland Sea Dogs (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

Embden, a small town in central Maine, is surrounded by the Kennebec and Carrabassett Rivers. The town’s website declares that its current population is an estimated 939 people, who are “proud of our history and optimistic about our future.”

I met two of those proud and optimistic people at the Sept. 4 Portland Sea Dogs game: Erik Carey and his 11-year-old son, Luke.

047Embden is over 100 miles north of Portland; one would think that would be a prohibitive distance for Erik and Luke to travel on a regular basis. But if one would think that, then one would think wrong.

Erik and Luke are Sea Dogs season-ticket holders, who regularly make the long drive to Hadlock Field together.

“My wife has been to one game, my daughter has been to one. I think Luke and I have been to about 30,” said Erik, an eighth-grade teacher with 20 years of experience in the education field.

On these frequent father and son excursions to Hadlock Field, Dad drives while his son reads. These trips are so long and so frequent that Luke was able to read the bulk of the entire Harry Potter series while riding alongside his dad on trips to and from the ballpark.

On this particular evening, Erik and Luke varied up their Sea Dogs routine by serving as my designated eaters (you know, the individuals recruited to consume the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits).

We began at the Shipyard Brew Pen, located at the far end of the third-base line.


Shortly after we arrived in the area, there was a commotion behind us — shouts, squeals, nervous glances toward the sky and the sound of uncertain footsteps.

A foul ball was headed our way!

Erik dove for cover, but Luke kept his eyes on the prize. The ball bounced off of the asphalt and onto the roof of the Brew Pen, whereupon it rolled straight down and into Luke’s waiting hands.

Congratulations to Luke, the first-ever designated eater to snag a foul ball.


The Shipyard Brew Pen sells lobster rolls, and when in Maine, you’ve gotta get a lobster roll. Right?

The Sea Dogs’ lobster rolls are provided by Beal’s Lobster Pier.


Now it was Erik’s time to shine.

“This is pretty good…” Erik began.

“But not as good as my catch!” interrupted Luke, still psyched to have snagged an official game-used Eastern League ball. But back to Erik:

“Uh, um, uh, there’s so much pressure,” he said, searching for a way to describe the lobster roll. “Let me take one more bite.”

043“Does it taste like an egg salad?” asked Luke.

“No…” said Erik, still at a loss for words. He and Luke then commiserated briefly, using teamwork to come up with the following lobster roll description:

“The creaminess of the lobster melds well with the crunch of the bread.”

Erik, like the lobster, was now on a roll.

“The best part is that that the meat is not rubbery, and the sauce, there’s just enough,” he continued. “I’m really getting the lobster taste, not the mayonnaise.”

“Hey, you’re doing good!” said Luke.

“Yeah. Thanks, Buddy.”

For dessert, it was my duty to procure Luke and Erik a Muddy Biscuit from a concourse concession stand such as this.


New for the 2015 season, the Muddy Biscuit is a chocolate-dipped variation of the Hadlock Field treat known as the Sea Dog Biscuit: Shain’s of Maine vanilla ice cream served between two chocolate chip cookies.

Luke, introducing the Muddy Biscuit:

Like father, like son.

046Luke is no stranger to Sea Dog Biscuits and Muddy Biscuits, estimating that he’d had about “40 or 50” of them this season.

“This makes me sound like a bad parent,” said Erik. “Just wait until Mom reads this. … See, it’s not the cost of the travel down here. It’s not the cost of the tickets. I’m getting crushed by him at the concession stand.”

Luke wasn’t phased by his Dad’s accusations. He was lost in a dessert-based reverie.

“Would you say that the cookies and the ice cream complement one another? I’d say they do.”

“I don’t know,” replied Erik, before deciding that Luke’s Muddy Biscuit hypothesis was dead on. “It’s the perfect combination of a baked good and ice cream. Separate they are awesome, but when you put two great things together, you can’t go wrong.”

This sounded like an analogy for the father-and-son relationship — “When you put two great things together, you can’t go wrong.” Seeking to give Erik a rare upper hand in the dialogue, I asked Luke, “On a scale of 1-10, how thankful are you that your Dad takes you to these games?”

After much hemming and hawing, Luke grudgingly replied “10.”

“See, he doesn’t want to say anything nice about me,” said Erik. “Because he knows that I’ll remind him at the most inopportune moment.”

Note: My 2015 “On the Road” blog posts and articles are now finished. Thanks to everyone who followed along, and please feel free to get in touch any time about anything. Now the offseason truly begins. I’m going on vacation.

On the Road: The Maine Event in Portland

To see all posts from my September 4, 2015 visit to the Portland Sea Dogs (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

“This place smells good and looks good.”

The above sentence is scrawled in my notebook, on one of the pages dedicated to chronicling my evening at Hadlock Field. So, yeah, I was in a pretty good mood during this Friday evening ballgame against the New Britain Rock Cats. (Yes, the same New Britain Rock Cats who had already played their final home game, and who were now in the midst of their last-ever series.)

029Even the Trash Monster was smelling pretty good on this idyllic late-summer evening.

030Yes, you can actually throw your trash inside the Trash Monster. He is an anthropomorphic garbage can, and his diligent research on my part resulted me in learning that his favorite movie is The Garbage Picking Field Goal Kicking Philadelphia Phenomenon

I was particularly happy to have run into the Trash Monster, as I ended up missing out on some other key elements of the Sea Dogs’ gameday experience. The “Lobster Toss” between-inning contest occurred when I was at the concession stands with my designated eater, so I was unable to document that grand Portland tradition. Furthermore, I never got to see the “Home Run Lighthouse” emerge from beyond the center field wall, as no Sea Dogs players went deep in the ballgame. Spoiler alert! The Sea Dogs failed to score even a single run.

But life goes on, long after the thrill of blogging about it is gone. After saying goodbye to Trash Monster, I went upstairs to visit the press box.

036The view from the radio booth is a particularly good one.

IMG_0432And it’s probably even better once stuffed Slugger no longer blocks the view.

IMG_0431With this as my vantage point, I spent an inning on the radio with Sea Dogs broadcaster Mike Antonellis. That’s Mike on the left, and on the right is….is…I’m sorry, I can’t read my notes. Please forgive me, sir, and tell me your name one more time as it has slipped just beyond memory’s reach.


Update: His name’s Mark!


The path from the press box down to the front office is a treacherous one.

033But I didn’t go that route. I took the elevator, under the watchful eye of Slugger.

I was now closer to the ground.

037The ballgame was played with grace and alacrity, moving at a jackrabbit clip throughout. After meeting with my designated eater — this will be documented in the next post — it was already the seventh inning. The scoreboard contained nothing but zeroes and the denizens of the visitor’s bullpen were growing restless.

049I didn’t get a good photo, but here’s Frank the usher leading the crowd in the requisite between-inning version of “Sweet Caroline.”

051Frank, a retired postal worker, used be an usher at Fenway Park. I caught up with him after the game; note that he is singing into a plastic American Idol microphone and that his name tag reads “Neil Diamond.”

064Time was running out, and my opportunities to document new stadium vantage points was running out right along with it. With grace and alacrity, moving at a jackrabbit clip, I set my coordinates for the pavilion seats in right field.

I took this photo en route, simply because right angles are not common within seating bowl curvature.

054 This entire right field section emulates the “Monster Seats” at Fenway Park. Here’s the view from the last row.

055To my right was a giant inflatable L.L. Bean boot.

056The Rock Cats finally broke through with three runs in the eighth inning. As the bottom of the ninth approached, the score remained 3-0. Slugger tried to rev up the crowd with a skit in which he dressed up as Rocky, which is weird because the mascot of the opposing team is actually named Rocky.

The Sea Dogs bullpen was like, “Whatever, dude. Can’t you just get to the end of this post? It’s, like, November now. It’s time to move on.”

061The inimitably-named Forrestt Allday singled to lead off the ninth, but that was followed by a double play and a strikeout.


The game was over, having taken just two hours and one minute to play.

My last act of the game — and the season — was to record my requisite Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day. (And, yes, it was “Bark in the Park Night.” I just didn’t get any good dog photos.)

I’ve got nothing left to write.

On the Road: Replica Monsters and Big Boots in Portland

To see all posts from my September 4, 2015 visit to the Portland Sea Dogs (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

There are seven Minor League Baseball teams in New England, distributed with admirable equity on a state-by-state basis. There are two in Connecticut and one each in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine. I have already documented my ballpark visits to all of the teams in all of these states, save for one.

Did I save the best for last? You tell me.

Yes, my ballpark travels culminated in Portland, Maine. Not only was Hadlock Field my last stop of the 2015 season, it was also the last Eastern League team I had yet to visit. When I arrived at the ballpark, it was with a sense of satisfaction, exhaustion, anticipation and sadness. It was all going to end here, at a ballpark that opened in 1994 and has hosted the Sea Dogs ever since. (The Sea Dogs were one of two Eastern League expansion teams in 1994; this expansion was a result of the Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies joining the MLB ranks.)

004Slugger the Sea Dog has some serious musculature in that left arm of his, as he is able to perpetually hoist up a bulky electronic sign without breaking a sweat.

003If one were to turn around 180 degrees, and look in the same direction that Slugger is looking, one would see a tableau similar to the following. Hadlock Field is located in Portland proper, just off of route 295, west of the heart of downtown.

006Just down the street, on the first-base side of the stadium, stands a statue of a different sort. This, the work of sculptor Rhonda Sherbell, is called “American Baseball Family.” It was installed in 2007, and the source of at least one hilarious and oft-maddening Baseball Think Factory thread.


I think the Dad has gotten fed up for some reason, and now trying to sell the tickets to a more baseball-worthy family. The boy is like “Are you kidding me?” while Mom has her hands full to the point where she doesn’t really care one way of the other.

002Mom just can’t seem to shake that Teddy Bear from her palm. That thing must’ve been coated with adhesive.

007Upon arriving, I was welcomed as a visiting celebrity should be welcomed.

010My logo was designed by Sean Kane. The Sea Dogs logo was designed by cartoonist Guy Gilchrist, who is probably best known for writing and drawing Nancy. It just occurred to me that “Sluggo” is a key character in the Nancy strip, and Slugger is the Sea Dogs mascot. I think some sort of Nancy and Slugger mash-up is in order. How about it, Mr. Gilchrist?

Hadlock Field’s outfield is a colorful cornucopia of props, signage and seats. On the far right in the below photo, mostly obscured, is a pavilion featuring Fenway-emulating “Monster Seats.” There is also an inflatable L.L. Bean boot, installed atop the elevated outfield bullpens.

008Here’s a closer look at the boot. Note that a pitcher is warming up in front of the “SymQuest” sign. There is also a sign for Bangor Savings Bank, and who knows? Maybe that’s where Stephen King keeps his money.


From 1994 through 2002, the Sea Dogs were a Marlins affiliate. This made sense — the Sea Dogs owe their existence to MLB’s 1993 expansion — but was obviously less than ideal. The team became a Boston affiliate in 2003, however, and this obviously was ideal as Portland is most certainly a part of Red Sox Nation.

Hadlock Field’s “Green Monster” was added prior to the 2003 season in celebration of the affiliation; the Sea Dogs’ Monster is the same height as Fenway (37 feet) and even includes the names of Sea Dogs owners Dan and Bunny Burke in Morse Code on the scoreboard (the Yawkeys are immortalized similarly at Fenway). Dan Burke died in 2011, and his son Bill now serves as team chairman. Former Eastern League president Charlie Eshbach, the 2013 “King of Baseball,” was the Sea Dogs’ first employee and team president.


The home dugout looks normal enough…

012 …except that there is a toilet located at the far end (as in the end closest to first base). I don’t think I’d ever seen a toilet in the dugout before. Usually the closest one is in the clubhouse, or in the tunnel leading to the clubhouse.

At first I thought that Slugger was reprimanding me for taking video and photos of the dugout bathroom.

015But it turns out that he was just Voguing.


Strike a pose, there’s nothing to it

Before leaving the field for less-greener pastures, I interviewed Sea Dogs pitcher Matt McCarthy about his charity work in general and involvement with Baseball Miracles in particular. It’s a worthwhile story.

Meanwhile, the gates had opened and fans were streaming into the concourse. It was the Friday of Labor Day weekend, and the number of fans wearing shorts and a long-sleeve shirts illustrates summer’s transition into fall.

018The Friday of Labor Day weekend was a pretty good night to attend a game, but, of course and as always, it wasn’t the best game that I could have been in attendance. If I had only come two days later, I would have witnessed the Sea Dogs’ signature “Field of Dreams Game.” The players, wearing 1926 Portland Eskimos uniforms, literally emerge from a cornfield en route to mingling with the fans and thanking them for their support.

field of dreamsNothing of that magnitude was going on this evening, however. Dustin Pedroia was being inducted onto the team’s Wall of Fame, but this was done in absentia as Dustin was otherwise engaged in Boston. Sea Dogs media relations director Chris Cameron, who was very helpful both before and during my visit, can be seen in the plaque’s reflection. Hi, Chris.

011Dustin is one of many Sea Dogs to have made it to the Majors. This list is alphabetical; knuckleballer Charlie Zink is the last one on it.


And as for Hadlock Field itself? It was named after a local high school baseball coach.


Meanwhile, back out on the field, the game was rapidly approaching. Patriotic songs were in the process of being sung.

023And then it was time to play ball.

027Hadlock Field is beautiful, and there is still much more to come. My 2015 season in blogging ain’t quite done yet.

On the Road: On Your Mark, Basnett, Go!

To see all posts from my September 2, 2015 visit to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

At every ballpark I visit, I recruit a designated eater. This individual is tasked with consuming the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits. At Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, the home of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, that individual was Mark Basnett.

025Mark, an only child born on Christmas Eve, is 12 years old, in seventh grade and lives in Manchester. On the day I met him, the school year had just begun and he was none too happy about it. I think we all know the feeling.

“Trust me, summer is fun,” he said. “When summer’s over it’s like, ‘Boo.’ I don’t want to go back to school.”

Mark, who is autistic, is a regular attendee at Fisher Cats games along with his mom, Kristin. She explained in an email that “He is 12 and typically doesn’t like me around. You know, because I’m Mom.” Accordingly, Mark and I embarked on our designated eating adventures together while Kristin stayed and watched the game from her seat in front of the first base dugout.

I really enjoyed getting to know Mark, and think that you will as well. So, before we move into the meat of the post (so to speak), here are a few facts about Mark.

Favorite Food: Hamburgers “I eat them almost all of summer vacation. They’re my favorite with regular mustard. I hate honey mustard.”

Favorite Drink: Diet Coke “I love it.”

Favorite Restaurant: 99. “It serves good meals.”

Favorite (or at least most unique) Dessert: “One time for Halloween my Mom and Dad and I made a Jolly Rancher sour apple. My Dad melted the Jolly Rancher in a pan. It tasted really good.”

Favorite Movie: Pixels Because it’s like a real-life video game.”

Favorite Book: Diary of a Wimpy Kid “Because it looks hand-drawn. Maybe it is.”

Most Fun Thing He Ever Did: “Go on a Disney cruise. It was in Florida, and it sailed to different places. At the halfway point of the trip it turned around and sailed back.”

Okay, now it’s time to eat. The Fisher Cats have a variety of food choices at their concourse concession stands.

015Mark wasn’t too interested in expanding into uncharted food territory and the Fisher Cats’ concessions generally emphasize the staples anyway. So we stuck to the basics, and started with a cheeseburger.

Burgers, after all, are Mark’s favorite food.

026“Well, it only has cheese and mustard on it,” said Mark. “And meat. And two buns and that’s it.”

A closer look reveals that Mark’s assessment was correct.


“The best cheeseburger is hot sauce and mustard,” Mark elaborated. “But there is no mustard on pizza, because that would be weird.”

Where there’s thunder, there’s lightning. And where’s there’s a cheeseburger, there are fries.

028“I eat fries like a normal human,” explained Mark. “Sometimes I lick the salt off my fingers, which some people think is weird.”

I don’t think that’s weird, Mark. I do the same thing.

030As mentioned earlier, Mark loves Diet Coke. So, of course, he just had to wash down the burger and fries with his favorite beverage.

031“Every time I take a sip of Diet Coke it makes the tears run down my eyes,” said Mark. “The Diet Coke tastes a lot more diet-y than the regular Coke does….Oh, man. I’m hiccuping already.”

I then asked Mark if he was interested in obtaining some dessert. He was.

“Could I have some chocolate chip ice cream? Mom and I once tried to figure it out, how not to spill it, because it was so full.”

That was Mark’s set-up. And here’s the punch line:

“You know what else is gonna be full in 15 minutes or so? This, right here.”

Mark was pointing to his stomach.

So off to the ice cream man it was. The Hood’s ice cream man, specifically. They did not have vanilla chocolate chip ice cream, so Mark had to settle for mint.


Mark, who managed not to spill this oversized offering, said that “the mint is the reason why its minty, and the chocolate chips are the reason that its chocolate chipity.”


And that was it for Mark’s designated eating experience. He thoughtfully insisted on bringing the leftovers to his Mom, explaining that “Now Mom’s kinda gonna be the designated eater.”

And, 12 years old or not, seventh grader or not, he seemed very happy to see her. The feeling was mutual.

035Thanks, Mark. And thanks, Kristin. It was great meeting you both.

On the Road: Wandering Sharks and Airborne Chickens in New Hampshire

To see all posts from my September 2, 2015 visit to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

On September 2 I visited Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, home of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. Yes, it was a Wednesday evening late in the season. But I was there and I was alive and it’s always good to be alive because if you’re not alive you’re dead.

The Fisher Cats were playing their rivals to the north, the Portland Sea Dogs.

024My pregame wanderings and observations were documented in the previous post. Shortly after the game began, I met up with my designated eater (you know, the individual who eats the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits), and that will be documented in the next post.

So where does that leave us now? How about here, in the Fisher Cats broadcast booth, alongside Tom Gauthier?


I spent an inning on the air with Tom, who came to the Fisher Cats after a stint with the Bowling Green Hot Rods. Here, he sets the scene.

The view from the booth.

037Tom’s current broadcasting partner is Ben Gellman-Chomsky, who last appeared on this blog in a post about the 2014 Winter Meetings.

061Ben and I have long been Twitter pals, at least in part because he is always up for a pun battle. Or always was up for a pun battle, as earlier this month he finally run out of patience with my wordplay compulsions. I think I need to join some sort of pun addiction treatment program.

After visiting the booth, I went back down to the concourse. Shockingly, the view was almost the same as it had been in the broadcast booth. It was just a little lower to the ground.

039I would soon go lower still, all the way into the bowels of the stadium.

040Things always get a little strange in the bowels of the stadium, it’s the Minor League Baseball equivalent of visiting the bottom of the ocean. Giant hamburgers lie in disarray in front of makeshift storage areas, which are guarded by walking bipedal sharks.

041I had entered into this netherworld to gain access to the field, where I would attempt to catch rubber chickens in a bucket. These rubber chickens were thrown at me by a lacrosse stick-wielding man in a chicken mask.


I caught every rubber chicken that the man in the chicken mask flung at me.

047 What a great way to celebrate my 13th birthday. I hadn’t had this much fun since being born in 2002.

050I then walked back up to the concourse and was greeted by a giant, floating carton of milk. This was milk of the people, not of the 1%.

051The milk carton introduced me to his friend, Concourse Tractor, who turned out to be a repository of relevant information.

055Hamburgers, sharks, chickens, chicken-men, giant milk, Concourse Tractor. It was all getting to be a bit much, so I decided to find a quiet place to lay down.

056If there’s one thing I hate, it’s a hot door. So never mind taking a rest, I just kept on walking until I arrived at a deserted corner of the stadium. While within this state of isolation (my preferred state), I wrote and disseminated my Subversive and Groundbreaking Ballpark Joke of the Day.

A subsequent stop at the team store led me to observe that the Fisher Cats were selling apparel bearing the logo of a team that never existed: The New Hampshire Primaries.

IMG_0386The “Primaries” was actually the original name of the team, but after a public uproar the front office powers-that-be capitulated and subsequently decided via a “name the team” contest that an invasive species of mammal known for its wanton slaughter of domestic pets would be a better choice.

I personally love the Primaries team name and logo, and think that it is worthy of bipartisan support. Could that donkey look any smugger?

primariesAnd, yes, lest I forget: There was a game going on.

057It was an extra-inning game, in fact, as my notes helpfully explain that “someone hit a two-run homer to tie it in the ninth.” That someone was Shane Opitz of the Fisher Cats, whose blast over the center field wall tied the game 3-3. The tie score didn’t last long, however, as Manuel Margot singled to lead off the 10th, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a Sam Travis single. This gave the Sea Dogs a 4-3 lead, and this was the final score.

Congrats, Sea Dogs. Please converge into an indistinct heap upon the center of the diamond.

059But please don’t dawdle, as Launch-A-Ball awaits.

“Launch-A-Ball! Not to be confused with Lunchables, which are a delicious meal.” — actual sales pitch for Launch-A-Ball tennis balls that I had heard earlier in the evening.

It was a pretty slow night for Launch-A-Ball, but the show must go on.

060And that did it for my night with the Fisher Cats. Since they’re a Toronto affiliate, does that make them a “Double-Eh” team?


Alright, fine, whatever. I’ll show myself out.

Checking Out the Inn, in New Hampshire

To see all posts from my September 1, 2015 visit to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

On Wednesday, September 2, I woke up in a hotel room in Providence. After grabbing a food truck lunch with my friend Jake and taking a short stroll around downtown, it was time to say goodbye — or “biddadoo” as the French say — to Rhode Island. Next up on the ballpark road trip agenda was Manchester, home of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. Just as the Pawtucket Red Sox are the only Minor League team in Rhode Island, the Fisher Cats are the only team in New Hampshire. They currently enjoy a state-wide monopoly on this whole “Minor League Baseball” thing, and they also enjoy a monopoly in the category of “naming one’s self after an invasive and vicious mammalian species.”


The Fisher Cats play at a facility that is nothing if not awkwardly named: Northeast Delta Dental Stadium. It opened in 2005 (as Fisher Cats Ballpark), one year after the team relocated to Manchester from New Haven, Connecticut.

Upon arriving at the ballpark, which I prefer to refer to simply as “N Double-D S ,” I deposited my car in a lot reserved for VIPs such as myself. This lot was thoroughly protected from any wayward baseballs that might come skyrocketing out of the stadium.

004I did not enter the stadium from this location, however. I traversed from the lot to a sidewalk located behind the outfield fence and began walking toward toward center field. I soon arrived at this Hilton Garden Inn.


At the back end of the hotel’s ground floor, one finds the Pavilion Restaurant. The restaurant’s patio directly faces the N Double-D S playing field. It does not include access to the stadium itself, nor does the stadium provide direct access to the hotel.


009The hotel also offers rooms that look directly onto the field, though I unfortunately did not have access to that particular vantage point. Instead, I retraced my steps back out of the hotel and walked with resolve and confidence toward the main entrance of the stadium.

012The main N Double-D S entrance is at the left field side of the stadium. A staircase leads up and onto the open concourse.


This is the view from behind home plate, with the Hilton Garden Inn as centerpiece. The Hood Milk sign at the far left edge of the shot (I skimmed a little bit off the side) used to reside at Fenway Park in Boston. It is not whole-ly out of place here, make sure to pass your eyes right by it.

IMG_0382 My concourse journey culminated at the far right field side of the stadium.

017In the photo below, note that there is a red cloth draped over the outfield wall. This cloth was covering Chris Carpenter’s number 29, which was to be retired during a pregame ceremony. Carpenter never played for the Fisher Cats, but he’s a New Hampshire native who went on to pitch for the Blue Jays (with whom the Fisher Cats are currently affiliated).

016I also found myself fascinated by the Sign Gallery billboard next to the right field foul pole. It’s like they took elements from three separate billboards and mashed them together into one chaotic whole.

016It was soon time to move from one CSI to another. Corporate Sign Identity gave way to Carpenter’s Speaking Ingagement. (Yeah, I know.)

Carpenter gave a short, gracious speech as his two kids looked on.

IMG_0383Fungo, who may or may not have eyes, approved of Carpenter’s oration.

020Carpenter then ceded his ceremonial first pitch obligation to his son, Sam.

021During the exchanging of the lineup cards, Fisher Cats manager Bobby Meacham was accompanied by 12-year-old Mark Basnett.

022We’ll be seeing more of Mark in the very near future, as he was my designated eater that evening (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.

But, for now, it was time to rise and remove hats for the singing of the National Anthem.

023And, after that, there’s nothing left to do but “Play Ball!”

024What a well-oiled machine this blog is. These posts just write themselves, and that’ll do it for this one. Stay tuned for Part Two from Manchester.

On the Road: It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye in New Britain

To see all posts from my August 30, 2015 visit to the New Britain Rock Cats (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

Part One of this post covered all that went on as fans awaited the final game in New Britain Rock Cats history. This post, sensibly referred to as Part Two, will what went on during the game itself. Let’s start with the obvious:

It was a beautiful day for baseball.


032This was not to be a typical “Ben’s Biz” day at the ballpark. I didn’t participate in any between-inning contests or throw t-shirts into the crowd or anything like that. I didn’t even have a designated eater; the guy who had signed up cancelled, and I decided not to find a replacement. I was simply on hand to take in the final game atmosphere, and to talk to people regarding their thoughts on the imminent demise of the Rock Cats. (And the imminent rise of the Hartford Yard Goats.)

One of the most important people I talked to was 88-year-old Al Nelson. Pretty much everyone in the ballpark seemed to know him.

033An excerpt from my story on the Rock Cats, which prominently featured Nelson:

Al Nelson, an 88-year-old World War II veteran and retired firefighter, has been there through it all. He lives two miles from the ballpark and Sunday as always, rode his bike to the afternoon contest. (He won’t ride at night, he explained, because “you can’t find the potholes.”) Nelson, who has his name engraved on his first-row bleacher seat, is the unofficial mayor of the ballpark.

Hartford is only 12 miles from New Britain, but Nelson and fans like him have no interest in transferring their loyalties to the Hartford Yard Goats.

“I’m not going over there,” he said. “For one thing, they don’t have a parking lot. You’re gonna park in a garage or something? It’s not gonna be good. I’m not walking around Hartford at 10:00 at night. I’m not gonna feel safe. I’m not going to have any wheels when I get back. Where the hell’s my tires?”

In addition to talking to people, I wandered around a lot. It is always hard for me to sit still when visiting ballparks, and my afternoon in New Britain was no exception.


The pickins in the team store were, by this point, slimmer than a mass produced beef-stick.

037An interview conducted on this outdoor party porch allowed me to take in a second-level vantage point. No women allowed, apparently.

039And how about a round of applause for these two kids, hanging out in the parking lot while waiting for a foul ball to fly their way.

041The Rock Cats had a full roster of mascots wandering the ballpark. I’m not sure how many of them will be making the trip to Hartford.

Here, we have a Walrus who goes by the name of “Blooper.” I never did see Eggman, his purported sidekick.045This is Rookie, nephew of primary mascot Rocky.


Rookie’s favorite player is Rocky, whose favorite movie is Rocky. Rookie’s favorite movie is The Rookie, while his favorite food is Rocky Road ice cream. You’d think that Rocky Road ice cream would be Rocky’s favorite food, but Rocky simply prefers “ballpark hot dogs.” Way to deviate from the theme, Rocky. You’re like the Rocky V of mascots in that regard.

Reading the above paragraph was probably a deflating experience, akin to seeing Fun Zone attractions closed down for the final time.


Yes, the Rock Cats era at New Britain Stadium was rapidly coming to an end. Or at least it appeared so at the time. Midway through the seventh inning, the Portland Sea Dogs held a 4-3 lead over the home team.

“Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, one last time.

The Rock Cats tied the game at 4-4 in the bottom of the 8th. Jan Vazquez walked, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt and scored on Tyler Massey’s two-out single. Massey then stole second base and tried to score the go-ahead run on Noel Cuevas’ single to right field. But…no dice. Sea Dogs right fielder Aneury Tavarez gunned him down at the plate.

Tie score in the ninth inning? Hey, no problem. It’s never too late to get your picture taken with the mascot.

048The Sea Dogs went quietly in the top of the ninth, and in the bottom of the frame the Rock Cats again put themselves on the brink of victory. With two outs and a runner on second, Jordan Patterson came to the plate.

And…no dice.

Okay, so the Rock Cats era at New Britain Stadium wasn’t quite ready to end. Free baseball! The Sea Dogs again went quietly in the 10th; in my notebook I wondered if the at-bat music played for Tim Roberson (“Mrs. Robinson”) that inning would be “the last ‘mocking the visitor’ walk-up song in team history.” I immediately forgot to continue to keep track of this quirky detail, but it probably wasn’t. There was still more baseball to be played.

The bottom of the 10th unfolded very similarly to the bottom of the 8th. Vazquez walked, advanced to second on a sac bunt and then moved to third on a Juan Ciriaco single. Sensing the magnitude of the situation, one hardy fan attempting to strike up a “These Cats Rock!” chant. Only other person joined him, however. Anemic response begets anemic response, as an infield pop out was followed by a ground ball to shortstop.

No dice, so we went on to the 11th. In the top of the inning, Keury De La Cruz launched one over the wall in right center field to give the Sea Dogs a 5-4 advantage. Al Nelson, the unofficial mayor of the stadium, had seen enough. He left after the top of the 11th ended, perhaps not wanting to see the final game at New Britain Stadium end with a Rock Cats loss.

Fare thee well, Mr. Nelson. You’ve really got to respect an 88-year-old man who still rides his bike to the ballpark.

049But perhaps Mr. Nelson should have stuck it out. Pat Valaika doubled to lead off the bottom of the 11th, putting a runner in scoring position with no outs. But this was followed by a pair of infield pop-ups, little sound and less fury, signifying nothing. Patterson then came to the plate, the only thing standing in the way of a dispiriting final game defeat.

Dispiriting defeat was denied, however, as Patterson came through!

Vazquez struck out to end the inning, so on the 12th we went.

As you can see in the above video, what had been a pleasant late summer day was starting to turn ominous. Might the last home game in Rock Cats history include the last rain delay in Rock Cats history? As if the day hadn’t already gone on long enough. It is also worth noting that a celebrity softball game was scheduled to take place following the conclusion of the Rock Cats – Sea Dogs tilt. Participants included Rollie Fingers, Ferguson Jenkins, George Foster and Jim Leyritz; I was told that, while waiting for this game to end, this cadre of distinguished baseball men hung out in a cramped office within the stadium and traded war stories. What a surreal environment Minor League Baseball can be.

The 12th inning, meanwhile, was completely uneventful as both teams went down in order.

Now it was time for lucky 13. Kevin Pataky, veteran Minor League photographer, figured he may as well stay a while.

Portland, once again, went down 1-2-3 in the 13th. But the Rock Cats, as they were making a habit of doing, threatened in the bottom of the frame. Valaika doubled with one out, and after an intentional walk to Mike Tauchman Will Swanner hit a single to right field.

Valaika was waved around…

…and Valaika was thrown out.

As we careened to the 14th, I obtained a different vantage point.

051Nonetheless, the song remained the same. The Sea Dogs went down quietly in the top of the 14th, and the Rock Cats failed to score in the bottom of the frame. This despite the fact that they loaded the bases, and the guy on the mound was reserve infielder Oscar Tejeda. Yes, the last home game in Rock Cats history would now be decided with a position player pitching

I spent the bottom of the 14th inning in the press box, and the frustration in the room was palpable.

“It’s like he’s throwing batting practice out there! C’mon!” was a representative remark.

I spent the top of the 15th inning on the left field party deck. Any joy that the fans may have once had at getting to savor a few extra innings of Rock Cats baseball had now curdled into disgust.

“For the love of God, be done!” one woman screamed.

“After this game, I’m never coming back,” added a nearby gentleman.

The Sea Dogs didn’t muster anything more than a harmless single in the top of the 15th, giving the Rock Cats another crack at Tejeda — who, once again, is a position player — in the bottom of the frame. Tauchman singled to start things off, replaced by Swanner on first base bases after a botched sacrifice bunt attempt. But no matter. Patterson then came to the plate and finally, mercifully, ended the ballgame all with a two-run home run. Final score: Rock Cats 7, Sea Dogs 5.

Kevin Pataky got a great shot of the ensuing celebration.

walkoffThank You, Rock Cats fans, for 33 seasons of loyal support and, also, for sticking around for the entirety of this farcical baseball game.

052AC/DC, the original “Rock” cats, then played over the PA as the kids flooded onto the field to run the bases. From my notes:

“The emcee won’t stop yelling during run the bases. Dude, let the moment be!”

053And, yes, a celebrity softball game then broke out. Kudos to Mr. Fingers for wearing a full uniform.

054At this juncture of the day, sticking around for a celebrity softball game felt like a form of cruel and unusual punishment. I had only one thing left to do, and that one thing was to make the final Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark joke in New Britain Rock Cats history.

Nailed it.

On the Road: One Last Time in New Britain

To see all posts from my August 30, 2015 visit to the New Britain Rock Cats (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

When I put together my end-of-season New England ballpark itinerary, there was one imperative: On August 30, I needed to see the Rock Cats play at New Britain Stadium. This would be the last home game in franchise history, as in 2016 the Rock Cats are relocating to nearby Hartford and beginning a new era as the Yard Goats.

The Old: New Britain Rock Cats (1983-2015)


The New: Hartford Yard Goats (2016-?)


Goat Springs Eternal

August 30, then, was a day to say goodbye. Seeking to maximize their time at the old ballyard, the faithful-est of the Rock Cats faithful lined up outside before the gates opened.


But all things considered, New Britain Stadium isn’t even that old of a ballyard. From 1983 through 1996, the team played in Beehive Field (where they were known first as the Red Sox and then as the “Hardware City Rock Cats,” a nod to the Stanley Works corporation having its headquarters in New Britain). Beehive Field, reminiscent of an entirely different epoch, resides next door to New Britain Stadium.

The plaque outside Beehive Stadium reads “Industry Fills the Hives and Enjoys the Honey,” which is the motto of the city of New Britain. This is a better motto than “Worker and Drones, forever subservient to Queen Industry.”


002Upon entering New Britain Stadium, I hightailed it to the press box and spoke with longtime scoreboard operator Larry Michaels. He was one of several ballpark veterans I interviewed throughout the afternoon, as part of my story on saying goodbye to New Britain.


Michaels was among many press box denizens fulfilling his duties, one last time.


Back downstairs, the gates had opened. The Fun Zone inflatables had been inflated. One last time.


On the concourse, the Legends Diner was open for business. One last time.

009They sell pretzels at the Legends Diner, by the way. Pretzelhead Jones was steering fans in the direction of the pretzels. One last time.


Further down the concourse, the team store was a-buzzing with activity. One last time. (Yes, I couldn’t resist writing “one last time” one last time.)

It truly was an “Everything Must Go” kind of scene. These stadium signs were available for about $6 a piece, a small price to pay for one’s very own “VIP Reception” sign. I totally would have hung that on my bedroom door during my teenage years.

050There was a Hartford merchandise kiosk set up on the concourse as well. Everything must goat!

036As you can see, New Britain Stadium does not have an open concourse. Seeking the sunlight, I traversed up the stairs and onto the aisle.

011Rocky the Rock Cat was mingling with the fans.

013While traversing the concourse, I ran into devoted ballpark traveler Doug Kern. He’s been to 189 ballparks in his life, but New Britain Stadium was his “home” ballpark. August 30th marked the 229th Rock Cats game he would attend; the team had posted a 115-113 record in the 228 had that preceded it.

Here’s a photo of Doug’s scorecard from the first Rock Cats game he ever attended: April 15, 1999  against the Trenton Thunder (then a Boston affiliate). Tomo Ohka got the win for the Thunder; Shea Hillebrand was ejected. Backstreet Boys (probably) played on the PA.
014Shortly after speaking with Doug, I noticed that Rock Cats players and staff were tossing all manner of memorabilia into the crowd. Everything must throw!

015Fixing a “VIP Reception” sign around my neck as a makeshift credential. I proceeded onto the field for a closer look.

Thanks for the autographs, guy in khakis!

020Nobody asked me for an autograph, though my presence on the field apparently made me quite conspicuous.

Of far more interest to the average baseball fan was one Rollie Fingers, who was to take part in a celebrity softball game that had been scheduled (by the city of New Britain, not the Rock Cats)  to take place after the game. Here Rollie poses with Rock Cats (and now Yard Goats) general manager Tim Restall and his kids. It’s fitting that the GM of the Yard Goats would have kids.


A VIP of a different sort was this guy, number 35.


That’s Colorado Rockies first baseman Justin Morneau, who was in the midst of a rehab assignment with the Rock Cats. It was a case of great timing, as the Rock Cats were a Twins affiliate from 1995 through 2014 and Morneau originally came up through the Twins system. He played for the Rock Cats from 2001-03, so it was something special that he was able to return for the last-ever homestand at New Britain Stadium. In fact, two nights before, Morneau made his 2015 Rock Cats debut in front of the largest crowd in franchise history. This crowd had to wait through an unusual pre-game delay; it was “First Responders Night,” and a fire truck parked in the outfield as part of the pregame ceremonies ended up doing significant damage to the turf.

Minor League Baseball, always the best:

But there would be no such delays on this Sunday afternoon. Everything was proceeding according to plan, including one of the longest ceremonial “first” pitch lines that I had ever been a part of.

028I jumped into the line and tossed out my customary perfect strike.

Photo: Kevin Pataky

Photo: Kevin Pataky

The final first pitch was thrown by Rocky himself.

029After that, it was time for the singing of our National Anthem. One last time.


And with that, Part One of this New Britain blog series draws to a close. Stay tuned Monday for Part Two, in which I write about the Rock Cats one last time.

About Last Night: Portland Sea Dogs, September 4, 2015

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll be writing an on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon my presumed return home, I’ll provide the multifaceted blog coverage that you have come to know and, perhaps, love. Let’s get to it, lest it get to us!

2015 “On the Road” landing page — including complete itinerary — HERE! 

September 4, 2015:  Hadlock Field, home of the Portland Sea Dogs (Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox)

Opponent: New Britain Red Sox, 7:05 p.m. start time

Hadlock Field, from the outside: 

004Hadlock Field, from within: 

IMG_0431Culinary Creation: Maine Lobster Roll

041Ballpark Character: Slugger the Sea Dog. He was voguing.


At Random: Why, yes, that is his real name.

062Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: 

Up Next: 

The 2016 season

About Last Night: New Hampshire Fisher Cats, September 2, 2015

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll be writing an on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon my presumed return home, I’ll provide the multifaceted blog coverage that you have come to know and, perhaps, love. Let’s get to it, lest it get to us!

2015 “On the Road” landing page — including complete itinerary — HERE! 

September 2, 2015:  Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, home of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Double-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays).

Opponent: Portland Sea Dogs, 6:35 p.m. start time

Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, from the outside: 

012Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, from within: The Hood Milk sign in left field used to be displayed at Fenway Park. The Hilton hotel offers rooms with a ballpark view, and also features an outdoor restaurant from which fans can watch the game.

IMG_0382Culinary Creation: Designated eater Mark Basnett, 12, enjoys a cheeseburger.

026Ballpark Character: Chris Carpenter never pitched for the Fisher Cats, but he is a New Hampshire sports legend. Here, he gives a speech after having his #29 retired by the team.

IMG_0383At Random: 

041Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: 

Next up: 

9/4: Portland Sea Dogs


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