Results tagged ‘ Eastern League ’

On the Road: A Thorough Examination in Erie

(Interested in perusing all of my 2014 “On the Road” content? Click HERE  to visit a continually updated “On the Road” landing page. Bookmark it, and read ‘em all!)

On Sunday, August  24th, after witnessing a game between the State College Spikes and Jamestown Jammers at Russell Diethrick Park, I hopped into my rental car and crossed the state line into Pennsylvania’s northwestern-most region. My destination was Erie, home of the SeaWolves, an outlier on this trip in that they were the only Double-A team I visited and one of just two that were located outside of the great state of New York.

After a good night’s sleep, I woke up on Monday rarin’ to go and ready for some Tigers-affiliated Eastern League baseball action. The SeaWolves compete at Jerry Uht Park, a downtown facility that opened in 1995. The SeaWolves were were a Class A short-season New York-Penn League club from 1995-98, making the jump to Double-A in 1999 as one of two Eastern League expansion teams. They have been a Detroit affiliate since 2001.

So, here we are: Jerry Uht Park, named after a local benefactor who, in 1995, established a fund that would, in perpetuity,  assist with ballpark renovation and maintenance costs. Those in the know call it “The Uht.”

002Upon receiving entry into the ballpark (obtained via the solemn utterance of a secret password), myself and SeaWolves assistant general manager Greg Gania immediately began a journey through the outfield. We were bathed in a resplendent aura during our travels, courtesy of a blazing celestial orb.

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Our destination was the SeaWolves clubhouse, located beyond the center field fence and vaguely resembling a minimum security penitentiary.

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Our purpose was to locate SeaWolves reliever Will Startup, whom I wanted to interview on the subject of his baseball-themed artwork. Mission accomplished.

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You can read my feature on Will HERE. The gist of it is that he spends much of his down time during the season painting baseballs, using gel pens and mechanical pencils, and recently he completed his first home plate artwork as well. Will’s a really nice guy who, at the age of 30, has admirably persevered while riding the rickety wooden roller coaster that is the Minor League existence. This marked the first time that I spoke to him since he won 2008’s Moniker Madness contest for having the best name in Minor League Baseball. Check out his blog and follow him on Twitter, should you be so inclined.

A recent Will Startup creation, designed at the request of a SeaWolves batboy (who gave it to his girlfriend).

005And here’s a page from Will’s journal, showcasing a few of his sneaker designs (this is a post-playing career aspiration of his, to design footwear).

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Will also mentioned to me that he is not the only artistically-inclined reliever in the Eastern League. Did you know that Blake McFarland of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats does incredible work with recycled tires?

After talking to Will, I rather inarticulately thought to myself that “Hey, you might as well take a couple of pictures from out here in the outfield. Carpe Diem and all that.”

So that’s what I did. You’ll notice that Jerry Uht Park has a second deck seating area on the first base side of the stadium. In 2009, ESPN.com named these seats among the top 10 seating areas in the Minors and a lowly scrivener such as I would not dare contest this assertion.

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The left field wall doubles as the back end of the Erie Insurance Arena, home to the BayHawks (NBA D-League), Otters (Ontario Hockey League) and Explosion (Continental Indoor Football League). This got me to thinking — are there any other cities that boast Minor League baseball, basketball, hockey and football franchises? Erie is a Minor League sports lovers paradise.

Anyhow, in its original permutation, Jerry Uht Park boasted a walkway out in left field where fans could watch the game. The arena-as-left field wall set-up occurred as a result of an extensive renovation and expansion to the arena, completed in the fall of 2013.

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“And Popcorn”

Meanwhile, back at the box office, bananas and poncho wearers were steadily selling tickets to a robust walk-up crowd. It was “Buck Night” in Erie, featuring $1 concession items and beer, a deal that has proven to be quite popular with Erie’s returning college students.

“We always do the costumes on Buck Night,” SeaWolves president Greg Coleman told me. “Someone will have a question about where to park and it’s like ‘Talk to the banana.'”

015Speaking of college students, their return to school in August means that, during the last two two weeks of the season, most Minor League teams are short-staffed. After all, college students almost always make up a sizable portion of the intern and game-day employees. In industry parlance, nights in which a team is lacking in personnel are referred to as a “midget wizard” (as in, one with a short staff). “We’re gonna have to make due with a midget wizard” is a phrase that I heard time and time again on this trip.

Just kidding, no  one has ever used this terminology. I should stick to pictures, which I took a lot of as a wandered around the Uht and soaked in the pre-game scene.

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017This gentleman, sitting in an ESPN.com-approved seating area, was already plenty comfortable.

019A lone Baysox player prepares himself for the evening’s upcoming contest.

021Team-logo cornhole? Check.

023Large fun zone bounce house? Check.

025Smith’s Sausage Shack? Check.

026Yes, Smith’s Sausage Shack! Smith’s is an Erie-based meat purveyor, much beloved by individuals in the area. I was delighted to see the Smith’s Sausage Shack with my own eyes, as in 2008 it served as the inspiration for one of my favorite team-produced videos of all-time. I have posted this video on several different occasions, and I am probably responsible for 1200 of its 3500+ views.

Meanwhile, the pre-game preparations continued both on and off of the field.

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034The game was just about ready to begin, and the Buck Night devotees were still streaming in.

Buck Night — Where you don’t have to spend a lot of doe!

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Identification required

IMG_0212Just make sure that you can handle your booze, Buck Nighters. SeaWolves team policy strictly prohibits the loss of consciousness.

049As the game began, Erie right fielder Steven Moya was on the cusp of making SeaWolves history. He entered the game with 34 home runs and 101 RBIs, tied with Kurt Airosa for most home runs in franchise history and one behind Eric Munson’s all-time RBI mark.

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Moya and company sure had their work cut out for them, as, in the top of the first inning, SeaWolves pitcher Wilson Palacios went through the entirety of the Bowie Baysox line-up without recording an out. Leadoff hitter Mike “Carl’s Grandson” Yaztremski, hitting for the second time in the inning, made the ballgame’s first outs via a 6-3 double play that ran the score to 7-0.

The scoreboard must have been in error when this photo was taken, as at no point in the inning was there only one out (save for that brief moment in time which the double play was being turned).

044 The black and white Great Gatsby-esque player headshots were part of the evening’s “20s Night” theme. Mascot C. Wolf was certainly dressed for the occasion.

045As was SeaWolves director of entertainment Kristi Servais, who was manning the fan assistance booth. When I mentioned to Kristi that she had the same last name as a former MLB catcher, she replied “Yeah, Scott’s my cousin.” It’s a small world.

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It was during these early-game wanderings that an autograph-collecting fan named Nick introduced himself. He was not interested in being photographed or serving as designated eater (you know, the individual who eats the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits), but nonetheless he was an enjoyable and knowledgeable ballpark guide. Back in his college days he worked at Smith’s Sausage Shack, and he had nothing but good things to say about its husband and wife proprietors Dee and Barney.

“Smith’s has a cult following around here, but I’m not sure how far that it goes,” Nick told me. “Barney just works it, he’s a local legend. I was fortunate enough to work with him for three years and they were the best summers of my life. He and Dee are real salt of the Earth people.

Smith’s hot dogs certainly did look delicious.

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Nick also raved about SeaWolves second baseman Devon Travis, seen above on the scoreboard in his 1920s-style headshot.

“He’s the most fan-friendly player ever,” he said. “He has fun every day and you can just see it in his face.”

Noted, Nick. In the future, I will make a point to seek out Mr. Travis for an interview.

I also chatted a bit with SeaWolves fan Eric Brookhouser, a SeaWolves season ticket holder and jersey enthusiast (he owns 121 hockey jerseys and 49 baseball jerseys, most of the theme night variety) whom I have long interacted with on Twitter. I’m not sure what beer Eric is drinking there, but let it be known that the SeaWolves proudly serve various offerings from the nearby Erie Brewing Company.

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You can’t spell “Eric Brookhouser” without “Erie.”

Unfortunately, the SeaWolves most unique fan was not in attendance on the day that I visited. Prior to my arrival, team president Greg Coleman described this individual in an email:

Every ballpark has its characters, and Jerry Uht Park is no exception.  Richard Laurie attends each game with his puppet to cheer on the SeaWolves (Viva Los Lobos del Mar! is one of his favorite chants).  He also humorously lets the umpires know when they’ve erred.

Here’s what I (and, by extension, you) missed out on.

In this midst of all of this wandering and hobnobbing, something very unexpected occurred: the SeaWolves, down 7-0 before they came to bat, took the lead! Moya had doubled three times by this point, en route to tying the all-time franchise RBI record. And, most amazingly, Palacios was still in the game and thus in line for the win. I mean, how often does that happen? A pitcher goes through the entirety of the line-up before recording an out and still ends up with the win?

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More like the “no kiss” cam

As previously mentioned, I did not have a designated eater on this particular evening. I did enjoy a gluten-free treat, however, in the form of a walking taco.

Upon finishing the taco, I just kept on walking. The press box was my destination.

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Look closely at the above picture, and you can see an image of a doctor reflected within the top panel of press box glass. Your eyes do not deceive you — there really was a doctor in the press box.

067That’s Dr. Peter Lund of St. Vincent Allied Urology, who was in the press box so that he could administer a prostate exam to team president Greg Coleman as Coleman sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” This philanthropic publicity stunt, unique to the Minor Leagues, has been dubbed the “Two Knuckle Challenge” and was begun by Andy Milovich of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. In the manner of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, this stunt was then passed from team to team. It went from Myrtle Beach to Lake Elsinore to Charleston to Savannah and then here, to Coleman in Erie.

062“I thought it was a joke at first,” said Lund of the Two-Knuckle Challenge. “But prostate cancer is a serious disease, it still kills 30,000 men a year. Men should get screened and it’s not necessarily something that they brag about.”

Coleman had recently turned 40 — as a gift, he received a Startup-designed baseball — so he was a bit on the young side to receive an exam. This wasn’t so much about his health as it was a way to raise awareness.

Here, Lund, Coleman and SeaWolves team doctor Brad Fox set up a makeshift press box examination room.

064And here’s Greg, ready to go. The lyrics to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” were taped to the table in front of him in case he got disoriented. Sing it, Greg!

And that was that. Maybe you find this whole thing stupid and anti-climactic, but the point is crystal clear: if this guy can get a prostate exam in public while singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” then YOU can get one in the privacy of a doctor’s office. It ain’t that big a deal.

With the Two-Knuckle Challenge complete, I then spent some time speaking with SeaWolves team doctor Brad Fox. He is an interesting, enthusiastic and loquacious fellow, and my interview with him can be read HERE. He’s not only the team doctor, he’s also a batboy!

071While all of this was going on, the SeaWolves put the finishing touches on their improbable comeback.

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Final score: Erie 10, Bowie 7. Palacios was the indeed the winning pitcher, despite the fact that the ballgame’s first nine batters reached base against him. This marked the first time that I was in attendance for a game that later ended up in one of my Crooked Nuggets blog posts:

An Erie Occurrence (And I was there) — Erie SeaWolves’ right-hander Wilsen Palacios struggled mightily against the Bowie Baysox on August 25. He went through the entirety of the starting line-up without recording an out, en route to allowing seven runs on seven hits and two walks in the first inning alone. But then a funny thing happened — Palacios settled down and followed up his frightful first with four scoreless innings, and ended up earning the win as the SeaWolves rallied for a 10-7 victory. Baysox starter Branden Kline took the opposite approach, retiring the SeaWolves 1-2-3 in the first but ultimately taking the loss after allowing nine runs over 4 2/3 innings.

And that was all she wrote, folks. Upon the conclusion of the game, balls were launched and children ran the bases. Then everyone went home.

074The only thing I’ve got left to mention is that the SeaWolves are managed by Lance Parrish, surely the only Minor League skipper to have once guest-starred in an episode of Diff’rent Strokes. The internet is really failing us by not having any clips of this episode available, but here, as a consolation prize, is Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker guest-starring in an episode of Magnum P.I. 

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Unsportsmanlike Conduct?

I was in the midst of a brief vacation when the Lehigh Valley IronPigs unveiled their video game urinals, and my silence when it came to covering this momentous bit of news led to a barrage of emails, texts and tweets along the lines of “You saw this, right? You’re not dead, are you?”

Saw it I did and dead I am not! And to prove to you, the demanding consumer, that I can still be trusted as your “number one” source for urinal-based Minor League news and imagery I now present  to you an exclusive look at the urinal cakes that can be found within the men’s rooms of the Harrisburg Senators’ home of Metro Bank Park. These “leaked” photos are presented alphabetically.

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The Pee-astern League

Top row:

Akron Aeros — An affiliate of the Cleveland Indians? More like an affiliate of the Pee-veland Indians!

Altoona Curve — The Curve play at People’s Natural Gas Field? More like Pee-ples Natural Gas Field!

Binghamton Mets — B-Mets? More like the P-Mets!

Second row:

Bowie Baysox — Bowie Baysox? More like the Flowie Baysox!

Erie SeaWolves — Erie Seawolves? More like the Erie PeaWolves!

New Britain Rock Cats — The Rock Cats used to play in Beehive Field? More like the Rock Cats used to play in Pee-hive Field!

Third row:

New Hampshire Fisher Cats — New Hampshire Fisher Cats? More like the New Hampshire Flusher Cats!

Portland Sea Dogs — Portland Sea Dogs? More like the Portland Pee Dogs!

Reading Fightin Phils — Reading recently re-branded itself? More like Reading recently pee-branded itself!

Fourth row:

Richmond Flying Squirrels — Richmond Flying Squirrels? More like the Richmond, uh, Peeing Squirrels!

Trenton Thunder — Both Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte have played for the Thunder on rehab? More like both Derek Pee-ter and Andy Pee-titte have played for the Thunder on pee-hab!

I’m not sure if encouraging your male fans to urinate on visiting team logos constitutes cruelty to the opposition. If so then I’m sure Harrisburg will be hearing from PEETA about this.

And- hey! — turnabout is fair play. What team out there is going to obtain a Senators’ urinal logo? Pee on this!

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But for what it’s worth, the Senators aren’t the only team to have engaged in a little bathroom humor as of late. As part of their recent “nautical re-branding,” the Lake County Captains re-named their restrooms the “Poop Deck.”

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Don’t blame me — I’m just the messenger!

(Special thanks to Senators director of digital and new media Ashley Grotte for going beyond the call of duty in order to provide me with the photos in the Eastern League urinal collage seen at the top of this post. “I had to explain to people numerous times why I was wandering around in the men’s restrooms” she wrote in an email.)

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Get the LED Out

Things were a bit slow on the news front over the past couple of weeks, a situation that led to posts where I, you know, used a thesaurus to improve upon 140-characters or less baseball messages.

But no more! Things are really heating up these days (metaphorically), and from this point forward I will have lots to write about. And what I feel it would be prudent to write about today is the sudden glut of new videoboards in the Eastern League. The Akron Aeros, Trenton Thunder and Reading Fightin’ Phils will all be sporting new boards in 2013, and what better time than now to take a look at this triumvirate of LED-based enhancements?

Let’s start with the Aeros, whose new owner Ken Babby was the focus of my latest Minoring in Business column over on MiLB.com. Last week, the team revealed plans for a $1.65 million Daktronics videoboard project. A rendering:

New Akron Aeros Video Board Rendering

The Aeros board is 26′ x 68′, which they note is the “largest main video display in Double-A baseball and unofficially the fifth-largest in Minor League Baseball in LED size.”

A comparison of the team’s old board vs. the new one, in visual form:

Aeros New Video Board Comparison (2)

And, of course, that’s not all. For there will also be a ribbon board.

New Aeros Ribbon Board (2)

But perhaps it would be most apropos for me to show this all to you in video form:

Okay, that’s enough. Let’s move on.

Akron’s new videoboard announcement came right on the heels of Trenton making a similar proclamation. (Over Twitter I declared that the Aeros stole Trenton’s Thunder, which was part of my unsuccessful bid to start an insult war between the two clubs).

Here’s a mock-up of what the Thunder’s recently-rechristened Arm & Hammer Park will be looking like in 2013 and beyond. What I’m wondering is this: How is the shortstop already ranging to his right and preparing to dive? The pitcher hasn’t even completed his delivery!

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Photos shall be followed by facts, that’s the Ben’s Biz way! This is per the team:

Once installed, the project, which includes the addition of a 21′ x 68′ high density screen in right field, a new 20′ x 16′ display in left field and a new 14′ x 15′ highway marquee will make unprecedented technological advances while enhancing the fan experience at ARM & HAMMER Park.

The centerpiece of the improvement will be the 21’x 68′ world-class video board in right field that totals 1,428 square feet, more than four times larger than the previous video screen.

Other aspects of the project include a new message/data display in left field that will provide superior visibility and a larger and higher definition picture display on the highway marquee found outside the stadium along Rt. 29. The Thunder’s video production will now have replay capabilities, enhanced HD cameras, pitch speed and more.

The third and final EL entity to be featured in today’s entry are the recently re-christened Reading Fightin’ Phils. Their recent $1 million multi-media investment is highlighted by a 30′ x 60′ videoboard that shall feature “the clearest picture of any board in the Minors.”

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The team’s press release is well-worth checking out, particularly as it includes a bevy (yes, a bevy) of before and after pictures. But in the interest of brevity I shall forgo this bevy, and instead quote judiciously from said release.

[T]he team will be installing a $1 million multimedia video board project at FirstEnergy Stadium with the help of TS Sports of Dallas, Texas in the months leading up to the 2013 season. Once installed, the project, which includes the addition of a 30’x60′ HD10 board in center field, will make unprecedented technological advances while enhancing the fan experience at America’s Classic Ballpark.

“We are very excited to announce this investment into your ballpark,” said Fightin Phils General Manager Scott Hunsicker. “Some may be wondering ‘What was wrong with the existing videoboard?’ and the truthful answer is nothing, but here at the Fightin Phils, we do not believe in leaving well enough alone. We do not believe in the mantra ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. Instead, we believe in ‘fightin’ for what is best for our fans and ‘fightin’ to provide the best fan experience possible.”

The centerpiece of the improvement will be the 30’x 60′ HD10 video board in center field that totals 1,800 square feet, making it the largest video board among Double-A teams and 4th largest in Minor League Baseball. As just the fifth HD10 board installed by TS Sports, Reading’s will be the largest that TS Sports has ever installed. With superior resolution, the board will be illuminated by the second most LEDs of any team behind the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds.

Of course, the above assertion regarding Reading’s Double-A videoboard supremacy is no longer true as the Aeros have trumped them by a mere 32 square feet. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there in the world of Minor League scoreboards. A dog eat dog world.

(And, as an aside, Hunsicker’s quote seems to be a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the fan criticism that accompanied the team’s recent name change from the Phillies to the “Fightin’ Phils.)

I’ve been to all three ballparks featured in this post, and it is my opinion that the Thunder were the team that was most truly in need of a new board. Here’s a pic from my visit to Trenton last season, which perhaps can give you a sense of how tiny the old board was. Its visibility was nil, akin to a mosquito perched upon Paul Bunyan.

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And that shall do it for this, the latest and therefore greatest entry in the Ben’s Biz canon.

Apropos of nothing, but I’m currently reading a book of Stephen King short stories and the thought has occurred to me that Stephen King might enjoy this blog should he ever come across it. I hope to one day to receive an encouraging email from him.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Crab Fries, Cheese Balls and Tribute Bands in Trenton

Today’s serialized Trenton Thunder adventure continues just where the last one left off: at a concession stand! At not just any concession stand, but one featuring the Old Bay-doused “crab fries” of powerhouse Philly-area restaurateurs Chickie and Pete’s as well as the New Jersey specialty that is the pork roll sandwich.

As you may recall, I was accompanied at this juncture of the evening by reader/proud Ambler, PA resident Jeff Vervlied. Not only did Vervlied give me a hat representing my hometown Little League, but he volunteered to be the first “designated eater” in Ben’s Biz Blog history (my recent celiac disease diagnosis has rendered much ballpark food off-limits).

And what did I want him to eat? The pork roll sandwich, of course! Pork roll is definitely a northeast thing, and specifically a Jersey thing (one of its most prominent appearances in pop culture is the uber-catchy and not-at-all drug influenced song “Pork Roll, Ham and Cheese” by New Hope, PA’s Ween). Per Wikipedia, it was invented by Trenton’s own John Taylor in 1856 and originally called “Taylor’s Prepared Ham.” But once the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 was passed, it no longer met the legal definition of ham. Hence: pork roll.

Taylor is still a prime purveyor of the product, and well-represented amidst the Thunder’s kaleidoscopic jumble of outfield billboard images.

And, finally, here is the pork roll sandwich in all its glory.

Vervlied, the first “designated eater” in Ben’s Biz Blog history, dove right in.

Vervlied made quick work of the sandwich, but his overall reaction to it was non-plussed. “It’s okay,” he said. “Basically just a pan-fried ham. Would I serve it to guests? Probably not.”

Later, in an email, he summed it up like this: “A poor man’s eggs benedict.”

While the pork roll sandwich was obviously off-limits to me (it’s the bread, stupid), Chickie and Pete’s Crab Fries were good to go.

There’s really not much to it, but these things are addictive — crisp, thin, crinkle-cut fries covered in liberal amounts of Old Bay seasoning (hence, the “crab”) and accompanied by a dipping sauce that is, essentially, melted American cheese. While some don’t see the appeal, I absolutely love them. (Last month I missed a large portion of Iron Maiden’s set at the Camden Waterfront because of an insatiable urge to visit the Chickie and Pete’s concession stand).

But enough about the food. At this point, the game (the first of a doubleheader) was in full swing!

As I made my way down the concourse, I walked by one of the more unique souvenir stands in Minor League Baseball…

…and soon made an unsuccessful attempt to catch a t-shirt shot into the stands by “Facilitator of Awesomeness” (actual job title) Cameron Fox.

And, jeez, where does the time go? This game was just flying, and before I knew it a local church choir was singing “God Bless America” as part of the fifth inning stretch (remember, Minor League doubleheaders are only seven innings).

Upon the conclusion of this nightly exercise in mandatory patriotism, I met up with Cameron so that he could facilitate some awesomeness involving me. I was a participant in the “Finish That Song” contest atop the third base dugout, going against an individual by the name of David Menegaux.

Menegaux, whose default disposition seemed to be “bemused,” is a local musician who plays bass in a Van Halen tribute band by the name of Romeo Delight. He asked me if I knew of any Minor League teams who would book his band, and while I couldn’t say for certain I think these guys would be awesome as part of an ’80s rock themed “Thirsty Thursday” promotion. Check them out!

The more I do this job, the more I find that the particular brand of awesomeness I am able to facilitate is making connections such as these. I would absolutely love it if this blog can be the vehicle for getting Romeo Delight a gig at a Minor League ballpark. Who can make it happen? Reading? Wilmington? Lehigh Valley? Brooklyn? Connecticut?

But anyway…I was up first in the “Finish That Tune” contest.

Psychedelic shirt!

Here’s how it played out:

I won the cheese balls! But as soon as I won them, mascot Boomer tried to steal them from me.

I wrested them from his control and, soon, all was forgiven:

a couple of boobs

My first reaction upon winning the Cheese Balls was bittersweet, as I had assumed that I wouldn’t be able to eat them owing to, y’know, celiac disease. But, in perusing the label, I came across the two sweetest words in the English language.

I got 99 ingredients, but wheat ain’t one

Before finally moving away from the topic of Utz Cheese Balls, I want to state that they are a phenomenal snack product. True story — I buy a tub every year on Super Bowl Sunday, and now that I know they’re gluten free this tradition will continue until western civilization collapses upon itself like a white dwarf that has exceeded its Chandrasekhar limit.

Does anyone actually read this blog? No? Doesn’t matter. We’ve gone beyond material concerns at this point. With cheese balls in hand, I went into an area of the stadium that few men dare to tread. This is the base of operations for the promo staff, littered with the surreal tools of the trade.

Hmmm…where have I seen these before?

Oh, right. This is classic:

The funny thing about this room is that it doubles as a location for press conferences when rehabbing Yankees stars are in town. So the next time you see Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Joba Chamberlain et al talking about how their night in Trenton went as they recover from injury, remember that such conversations are taking place amidst the atmosphere seen above.

This picture didn’t come out well, but, hopefully, it illustrates what I’m talking about here.

Derek Jeter — staring at a disembodied mascot head? (photo: AP)

By this point, the first game of the doubleheader was in the books. I briefly stopped in the press box to score some free iced tea, and while there took a photo of the view.

And, back on the concourse, I snapped a scene straight outta Norman Rockwell. A Trenton Thunder employee was writing the game two starting line-ups on the whiteboard, with an eager young fan beside her immediately transcribing them into his scorebook.

The crowd had filed into the park throughout the first game, and at this juncture there were quite a lot of people in the seats.

The starting pitcher for the visiting Harrisburg Senators was Ryan Tatusko, a nice guy who is very accessible via Twitter. (Correction: was accessible. His Twitter account is no longer active.)

Not knowing quite what to do with myself (relaxing and watching a baseball game was clearly out of the question), I met up with Cameron and the promo crew. It was time for the annual mascot race, in which a young fan races against Boomer and Strike.

Boomer we’ve already met, but this is Strike:

The young fan won.

Shortly thereafter came the Dizzy Bat Race, with the contestants awaiting their moment of glory within the sepulchral glow of the dugout tunnel.

And, oh, how glorious it was. The players were really into it, as was the usher atop the dugout.

Feeling dizzy by association, I decided that it was time to eat. I needed something to complement the crab fries I’d had hours before, but what? The Thunder have plenty of food options…

but not much that was gluten-free. But, after a thorough investigation, I found that the St. Louis-style ribs at Boomer’s BBQ were good to go.

They were going to close soon, so my portion of ribs was a heaping one. I can’t say that they were the best ribs I ever had, but they were the most recent.

I washed that down with a cabernet from Hopewell Valley Vineyards (which, incidentally, is located directly behind my Dad’s property outside of nearby Pennington) — my first glass of wine at a Minor League game! Oh, what a milestone in my professional career…

And then, after all that, the rains came. In the sixth inning of the second game of a doubleheader.

Again, not knowing what to do with myself, I wandered into the “Tom McCarthy Radio Booth” and checked in on broadcasters Jay Burnham and Josh Maurer.

Oh, hey guys!

While I was in the booth, the game was called after a delay of just 25 minutes. I barely had had the time to check the latest MLB standings.

As Burnham and Mauer launched into their post-game show, fireworks began to light up the sky. Therefore, auditory adjustments needed to be made.

I barely watched the fireworks, as I was under the gun to produce some quality poetry. Inspired by the book Baseball Haiku, Burnham has instituted a post-game tradition in which he and Maurer write a haiku about the night’s events. The spirits were with me, I suppose, as I dashed off four. Quite graciously, Burnham and Maurer read them all over the air.

singing on dugout/cheeseballs won, life dreams realized/and then the rain came

Boomer and Strike race/their opponent a young girl/of course, the girl won

you can get beer here/but you can also get wine/I had cabernet

Ryan Tatusko/his name has five syllables/Ryan Tatusko

And – finally! — it was then time to go home. My only companion was Utz Cheese Balls. On NJ Transit:

Penn Station

The E and G trains

And, finally, home.

One of these days this will all make sense, I hope.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: A Frankfurter Chauffeur to the Bloodmobile in Trenton

As someone who lives in New York City and grew up in the northeast, the Trenton Thunder have long been a team with whom I am familiar. I first attended one of their games when I was in high school (the exact date is lost to the ages, but I almost certainly had a shaved head and was wearing a Beastie Boys t-shirt) and since I started writing for MiLB.com in 2005 I’ve made it a point to visit Trenton’s Mercer Waterfront Park at least once a season.

But here’s the thing — all of these excursions were as a fan. Despite Trenton’s proximity to my base of operations, I never quite found the time to give the team my not-yet-patented “On the Road” treatment.

Until this past Saturday, that is. Showing a level of professional commitment unrivaled in the annals of mankind, I woke up and caught a NJ Transit train running on the Northeast Corridor line. It originated at New York Penn Station and, 91 minutes later, arrived at the recently refurbished Trenton Transit Center. I’m a veteran rider of the Northeast Corridor Line, and have always enjoyed the beautiful ugliness that can be seen along the way. Or is that ugly beauty?

Usually on these trips I make a quick stopoff at Elizabeth, NJ in order to buy a Garment that’s right for me. I absolutely love the style, service and selection of the Pink Room, and wish this was the banner ad currently pulsating at the top of this blog.

But today I was unable to make a visit to The Pink Room, as there was a Trenton Thunder employee waiting to give me a ride from the train station. And not just any employee!

Now THIS is some beautiful ugliness, an intern in a hot dog suit standing in the pouring rain. From here on out, I knew that I was going to have a good day.

Sam Sigal: Trenton Thunder intern; hot dog

It’s only a 10-minute drive from the train station to the ballpark, especially when you’re hot-dogging it. And, wouldn’t you know it? By the time we got there it wasn’t even raining anymore.

Off to the left there were multiple charitable drives that were taking place, as part of the Thunder’s annual “Good Deed Game” promotion.

 Sez the team:

The Good Deed Game will feature a blood drive to benefit the Community Blood Council of New Jersey, a school supplies drive to support the learning center at the East Trenton Chapter of Habitat for Humanity, a non-perishable food drive to benefit the Mercer Street Friends Food Bank, a toiletries drive to support HomeFront, a clothing drive that will benefit the Rescue Mission of Trenton, and new this year, a pet supplies drive to support The Shelter Animal Project.

The promotion included fan incentives, with each donation earning its own reward (read more about it in the press release linked to above).


I did not bring anything to donate, unfortunately, except for that which is within me at all times. To the Bloodmobile!

I was very eager to give blood, because it had been a while — in fact, it was my inability to donate which had led, ultimately, to my diagnosis of celiac disease. To briefly recap: I was rejected from giving blood several times earlier this year, due to low iron levels (ie anemia). And the reason I had anemia was because gluten was damaging the linings of my small intestine, therefore making me unable to absorb iron properly.

So, anyway, it was with some trepidation that I entered the Bloodmobile. I didn’t want to be rejected again!

And I wasn’t! The nurse who tested me said “Cue the Black Sabbath, because you’re an Iron Man!” I then complimented her for making such a well-timed comic remark. “Call me Tina Fe,” she replied.

Or at least that’s how I remember the conversation going. I wasn’t taking notes, on account of the needle in my arm.

Giving blood is really easy — they extracted a pint in six and a half minutes, during which I sat in this comfortable chair and watched the very end of Mystic River (spoiler alert — one of the last shots is of a brooding Sean Penn clapping during a small town parade). I was also treated to some Powerade and a bag of Bugles, the closest thing to a gluten-free snack that they had available (“may contain wheat,” the bag said. “May”?!).

And that’s not all! I also was given a t-shirt AND got to wear an awesome bandage for the remainder of the evening. Everyone should give blood! (Unless, you know, you’re anemic due to an as-of-yet undiagnosed case of celiac disease.)

I felt fine after the blood donation, and as I made my way back outside the game was about to start (Saturday was a doubleheader, with the first game commencing at 5). While there was a steady trickle of fans buying tickets and making their way through the gate, I decided to do a quick lap around the stadium’s exterior before making my way inside.

The ticket-buying public:

The view from the front of Mercer Waterfront Park is thoroughly uninspiring…

but it’s called “Waterfront Park” for a reason. As I made my way around the side of the facility, toward the outfield, the scenery improved considerably.

The Thunder bullpen, quite literally, have their backs to the wall.

The visitors — not so much.

As much as I enjoy taking photos through chain link fences, I decided it was time to finally enter the ballpark. The steps leading up to the concourse are a most imposing sight.

And they lead directly behind home plate.

But, as always, there wasn’t much time to watch the game. Upon entering the stadium, I met up with a Biz Blog reader by the name of Jeff Vervlied. We have corresponded several times over the last year or so, and this correspondence was initially motivated by my casual mention in a blog post that I grew up in the town of Ambler, PA. Jeff lives in Ambler, and his son and daughter are currently students at Wissahickon High and Middle schools, respectively. (I attended Wissahickon throughout the entirety of my public school career, en route to achieving MiLB.com fame and fortune).

I was flattered that Jeff drove all the way to Trenton just to say hello, and even more flattered that he brought along a Lower Gwynedd baseball fitted hat! (This will be it for the Montgomery County name-dropping, promise).

I was an Ambler Junior Baseball man myself, but still happy to represent nearby Lower Gwynedd.

But hat delivery wasn’t the only item on the agenda. There was also this:

And, 1100+ words later, that’s where we’ll leave off. There is still MUCH more to come from Trenton: pork roll, crab fries, mascot heads, hanging strollers, Bon Jovi, Van Halen tribute bands, cheese balls, Ryan Tatusko, grammar errors, Americana, coupon distribution, dizzy bat races, BBQ ribs, local wines, inclement weather, fireworks, an abundance of baseball haiku and the facilitation of awesomeness.

Keep reading and I’ll keep writing, okay?

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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