Results tagged ‘ Eastern League ’

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

About Yesterday Afternoon: New Britain Rock Cats, August 30, 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 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! 

August 30, 2015:  New Britain Stadium, home of the New Britain Rock Cats (Double-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies)

Opponent: Portland Sea Dogs, game time 1:35

New Britain Stadium, from the outside:

001New Britain Stadium, from within: 

IMG_0309Culinary Creation: This was the last game in New Britain Stadium history, as the team is moving to Hartford in 2016. This special occasion, coupled with the advent of my designated eater having to cancel, led to the decision to not focus on food this afternoon. So, this is the best I got.

IMG_0312Ballpark Character: New Britain staple Al Nelson, 88, who rode his bike to the game.

033At Random: At the team store, pretty much everything was for sale. Want some signage?


Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: 

8/31: Lowell Spinners

9/1: Pawtucket Red Sox

9/2: New Hampshire Fisher Cats

9/4: Portland Sea Dogs


On the Road: Mounds of Pork and Stacks of Cheese in Richmond

To see all of posts from my June 25, 2015 visit to the Richmond Flying Squirrels (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Virginias, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

There are few things more American than a father and son enjoying a baseball game together, especially if said father and son supplement their ballpark experience by eating a bunch of food together in a windowless room while a traveling niche blogger takes pictures of them. This was the situation at Richmond’s The Diamond on June 25th, when my designated eaters (you know, the individuals who consume the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits) were the father-son tandem of Stuart (on the right) and Turner Jordan.

045A windowless office within the bowels of The Diamond is probably not the most ideal place to have a ballpark meal, but under the circumstances, it was a pretty good option. It was raining outside, the game was in a delay and The Diamond concourse was packed with people who easily could’ve impeded on our operation.

Stuart, somewhere north of 30, and Turner, 15, live in the Richmond suburbs of Henrico County. Dad is a software analyst for Advanced Auto Parts. Son is a rising junior who is on the cross country and track-and-field teams. The Jordans are baseball fans, attending several Flying Squirrels games a year. Sometimes it’s a whole family affair, but Stuart said that his wife and daughter usually opt not to attend and the outing thus becomes “a man thing.”

“I hope they get a new stadium, because right now they’re putting band-aids on it,” said Stuart of The Diamond. “It’s such a cool thing, to bring your kid and watch some ball.”

As for why he wanted to be the Designated Eater, Stuart said “I saw your blog pop up and thought ‘Ah, that’s pretty cool.'” He is a regular visitor to, becoming more invested in the Minors after his nephew, Daniel Bowman, was drafted by the D-backs and spent some time in their system. (Daniel is now an assistant coach at East Tennessee State).

We began our sedentary food tour, graciously overseen by Flying Squirrels food and beverage manager Michael Caddell, with the Boss Hog.

047The Boss Hog features a rare south of the Mason-Dixon line appearance by pork roll, which is most closely associated with the great state of New Jersey. The pork roll is topped with pepperoni, American cheese and a fried egg and served on a pretzel bun. A closer look:

043Meanwhile, Turner was ready to try the Grilled Cheese Cheeseburger, which is fairly self-explanatory. All told, there are six or seven pieces of cheese residing within this thing. It’s cheese on cheese on cheese.

046The Grilled Cheese Cheeseburger, ready for its close-up:


Have at it, Jordans.

“I’m not a big fried egg fan, but this is pretty good,” said Stuart of the Boss Hog. “I like cheese and pepperoni, and the roll’s good. It’s nice and soft. It’s a good roll.”

“This is awesome, really good,” said Turner of the Grilled Cheese Cheeseburger. “I love the meat. I don’t know how to describe it, it’s just really good.”

Next up was the BBQ Pork Fries, in which the team’s Cajun-seasoned Squirrely  Fries are loaded up with a North Carolina-style vinegar-based barbecue sauce, pulled pork and jalapeno nacho cheese sauce. (Not pictured: a side of cole slaw.) Sporks are usually required.

049 Father, son, food:

050The only quote I have from Stuart regarding this item is that “I like the crunch of the fries, and the texture change with the pulled pork.” But this is maybe because he was too busy eating. He was an immediate convert to the BBQ Pork Fries, love at first bite. He just wished it had had some bacon, is all. (Stuart Jordan wanted it to be known that, for the record, he loves bacon.)

Turner, however, was not much of a fan.

“That’s spicy. It burns my mouth so easily,” he said. “I just cannot handle it.”

What Turner can, and did handle, was this Deep-Fried PB&J.

048This is, quite simply, a Smuckers Uncrustable dipped in funnel cake batter.

051“It’s good,” said Turner, a rising junior of few words.

“It’s really good, and you could stick some bacon in the middle of that,” said Stuart, who now had bacon firmly on the brain.

In addition to bacon, Stuart is also a proponent of beer. This, at least according to Turner.

“That’s what you do every day,” said Turner to his dad. “Come home from work, play with the dog, and drink beer.”

“See, never bring a son with you,” replied Stuart. “He’ll rat you out.”

Nothing wrong with having a beer after work, and nothing wrong with having a beer at the ballpark. It was time for us to depart this office lair, so that Stuart could enjoy the Flying Squirrels’ signature “Chin Music” amber lager, brewed by Center of the Universe (a local brewery co-owned by former Major League hurler Chris Ray).

IMG_1442Note, in the above photo, how the tap handles are made from Louisville Sluggers. Note, also, that Stuart was happy to be drinking a beer.

“If it’s cold and in the house, I’ll drink it,” said Stuart of his overriding beer philosophy. “I am not a connoisseur.”

He gave high marks to the Chin Music, remarking that “There’s a little bitterness. It’s hoppy, but it’s drinkable.”

And thus, we say goodbye to the Jordans. The weather had cleared by this point, and it was time for them to watch some baseball.

“I thought it was cool to try something different,” said Stuart of the designated eating experience. “Usually I stick to the basics. Like, eh, I’ll get a cheeseburger.”


On the Road: The Diamond on a Rough Night in Richmond

To see all of posts from my June 25, 2015 visit to the Richmond Flying Squirrels (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Virginias, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

June 25th’s Richmond Flying Squirrels game, at which I was in attendance, did not begin on time. Just prior to the scheduled 6:35 p.m. start, the tarp was put on the field. It wasn’t raining at the time that the tarp was administered, but the forecast was grim and preparation is key.

026 With the tarp on the field, I had (even) more time to wander the concourse. Or concourses, in the case of the multi-level The Diamond.

(Note: The name of the the ballpark is The Diamond. It is awkward to write about a facility with “The” in the name, but I will persevere.)



Scenes like this give me flashbacks to my Philadelphia-area youth, when I attended many a game at Veterans Stadium. This is my original conception of what a concourse was, and could only be: a dim concrete bunker.

032 And, actually, no, it was my first time visiting this particular men’s room. You must have confused me with someone else.

035The view from the top.

040While traversing these elevated environs, I made the acquaintance of usher Tom Taylor.

039Taylor, as befits an usher and as the above photo illustrates, is a gregarious fellow. He brings bags of leftover promo souvenirs to every game — koozies and t-shirts and whatnot — so that he can distribute them to the fans in the section. He dances during the seventh-inning stretch and, yes, even uses his megaphone during a rain delay.

After parting ways with Taylor, it was time for a rendezvous with my designated eater, Stuart Jordan, who was joined by his son, Turner. We’ll get to know them in the next post.

045By the time I parted ways with the Jordans, the tarp was off the field and the game had begun. Having had enough of the concourse, I returned to field level and ran smack dab into this guy.

IMG_1444That’s the Wacky Hot Dog Vendor, riding Flingo the Flamingo. This, of course, is a blatant rip-off of homage to Reading’s Crazy Hot Dog Vendor (who rides an ostrich).

As mentioned in the previous post, this evening’s promo was “The Many Faces of Robin Williams” and the team was wearing Jumanji theme jerseys. Here’s mine, safe and sound in the hotel room later that night:

IMG_1475Unfortunately, I missed (or failed at documenting) most of the between-inning promos dedicated to the Robin Williams/Jumanji theme. According to a game script that I obtained, this included a “Three Magic Wishes” contest (Aladdin), Flubber dunk, Jumanji dice roll, and a Lost Boys vs. Hook race.

Here’s on-field emcee Murph, getting ready to announce the Lost Boys vs. Hook race (the Lost Boys were the young contestants, Hook was played by the team’s pirate mascot Captain Ahrr-VA).

IMG_1458While I didn’t get any decent photos of the race itself, I did get some photos of other people watching the race. This, right here, is classic Minor League Baseball: a gaggle of spectators (family members of the race participants) standing right next to the visiting bullpen. It’s like these two classes of ballpark denizens are in two separate worlds, despite the overwhelmingly close proximity.

IMG_1457To the right of the spectators is the bullpen itself.

IMG_1460I would be remiss in my duties if I did not mention a recurring aspect of the Flying Squirrels’ gameday entertainment, which is the mid-5th inning appearance of Parker the Rally Pig.

It’s pretty simple, really. Parker is wheeled out onto the field in a custom-made chariot, by a lucky intern wearing a pig nose. Running behind him are two or three fans, also wearing pig noses. The appearance of Parker on the field is, as his name would imply, meant to spark a Flying Squirrels rally.

This is surely the only sponsored Rally Pig chariot in Minor League Baseball. Whoever negotiated this deal with Call Federal should get a raise.

IMG_1451It had been a long day, and I was off my documentation game. Instead of positioning myself on the third base side of the stadium, at the end of Parker’s route, I instead ran behind his entourage. Blurriness ensued (plus, I nearly got beaned by a wayward pitch while running behind the mound).

IMG_1454Anyhow, it was all fairly uneventful. Not at all like this:

It was now the sixth inning. Their had already been a rain delay to start the ballgame, and now the weather forecast was calling for this:

IMG_1450It was clear that the rains were gonna come monsooner or later, so I sought safety in the press box.

IMG_1462Within minutes, this was the scene.

IMG_1463Looking for something to do, I paid a visit to Flying Squirrels lead broadcaster Jon Laaser. Laaser is in his waning days with the Squirrels, as he recently accepted a job with Virginia Tech as the “Voice of the Hokies.”


Laaser actually played a key role in my first-ever “On the Road” excursion, when I visited the Altoona Curve in 2007 for “Awful Night.” From my article:

Vic Buttler’s RBI single with two outs in the ninth inning lifts the Curve to a 3-2 victory, a decidedly non-awful conclusion to the evening’s contest. However, the Curve have some post-game entertainment planned — A “Laaser Show,” to be exact. The vast majority of the 4,007 fans in attendance remain in their seats, eager to witness a Minor League first. Most of them will soon regret this decision.

The lights go dim, and the dramatic strains of “The Final Countdown” fill the stadium. With the tension mounting, front-office employee Jon Laaser appears on the field. Glow sticks are attached to his body. Laaser then entrances the crowd with his slinky, seductive dance moves, until the music is mercifully cut off, and the lights go back on. Awful Night V has finally concluded.

It’s safe to say that Laaser’s “Light Show” days are behind him, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to reference it one last time. (I am having trouble locating the video — which does exist — but that’s probably best for all involved.)

Meanwhile, the rain kept on coming.


Laaser’s first headline draft was “Squirrels Lose as World Ends,” 3-0.

IMG_1465Seeking a more visceral experience, I headed back down to the main concourse. The below Vine was no mere hyperbole — this really was the hardest I’d ever seen it rain at a ballpark in my life. One long-time Ben’s Biz reader, on Twitter, was moved to call this storm a “Frog Strangler.”

While waiting out the deluge, I recorded by Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day (patent pending).

After the game was called, I spent an hour or so at “Parney’s Pub,” a makeshift front office gathering space created by (and presided over) by team VP Todd “Parney” Parnell. Cheap domestics are the order of the day — but the more discerning consumers made sure that the team’s own “Chin Music” beer was available as well. (As for me, my gluten-free needs were accommodated by a local cider; it was sharp and crisp and not too sweet but, alas, the name escapes me).

IMG_1473It was a fun, inclusive scene at “Parney’s Pub.” When I left, Parney could be found outside of the clubhouse playing just-promoted reliever Josh Osich in one last game of Golden Tee. But I had (approximately 15) miles to go before I slept, and headed out to the rental car.

Good night, The Diamond. And fare thee well.

On the Road: Passing Through the Squirrely Gates in Richmond

To see all of posts from my June 25, 2015 visit to the Richmond Flying Squirrels (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Virginias, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

I don’t really want to get into it, “it” being the seemingly eternal stadium debate that surrounds Richmond’s The Diamond. The facility, a massive concrete slab conveniently located just off Interstate 95, opened in 1985 and hosted the Triple-A Richmond Braves from that season through 2008.

The Braves departure was largely due to their dissatisfaction with The Diamond’s increasingly dilapidated condition. The Flying Squirrels came to town two years later (having relocated from Norwich, Connecticut),  wanting to take advantage of the robust Richmond market but also making it clear that the construction of a new ballpark was a prerequisite of the relocation.

But here we are, in the year of our Lord 2015, and The Diamond is still going strong. Or, at the very least, it’s still going. This is one resilient slab of concrete. (As for the new stadium, it’ll happen eventually. The ups and downs and twists and turns of that saga could fill a book and one day might. The Flying Squirrels’ habit of leading the league in attendance has, paradoxically, hurt the cause. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” say proponents of the status quo.)

When I visited The Diamond, it was not with the intent of adding to (or detracting from) the ballpark debate. I simply wanted to see it for myself. And as regards that unambitious goal: Mission Accomplished!

002As you can see, The Diamond resembles a gigantic spaceship. But most spaceships don’t have oversized inflatable Flying Squirrels — that’s Nutzy to you — displayed in close proximity to them. Furthermore, spaceships are almost always devoid of whimsical entrance signage such as the “Squirrely Gates” seen in the above photo.

Whimsical signage abounds, in fact.

001Perhaps Brickman Complete Tree Care has something to do with the stadium’s well-manicured exterior.

008The impeccable landscaping efforts continue down this walkway…

003 …where one finds a succinct visual rundown of the costumed characters that can be found within.

004The above stable of characters — three of whom I would go on to meet later in the evening — are overseen by this character:

009That’s Todd “Parney” Parnell, Flying Squirrels vice-president and well-known industry raconteur. He’s one of those Bill Veeck kind of characters — always upbeat and boisterous, apt to be the first one at the ballpark even if he was the last one at the bar the night before. The “office” seen above is really a re-purposed storage room (or something of that nature), located directly across from the home clubhouse. If you know Parney, then you will not be surprised whatsoever that a makeshift bar is part of the set-up.

Thanks to Parney’s largess, the home clubhouse has a Golden Tee arcade game sitting just outside its doors.

This subterranean locale also doubles as a parking lot, for the players as well as for various team-owned vehicles. That’s one sweet Kubota, is it not?


Oh, and a pig lives down here. Parker the Rally Pig, specifically.


Parker has an outdoor home as well. We’ll see more of him elsewhere within this blogging saga.


Remember, like, five photos ago? When I posted an image of Parney? In that photo he is wearing that night’s “Jumanji” theme jersey, the centerpiece of a “Many Faces of Robin Williams” promotion.

You know who else was wearing one? Me, as in Ben’s Biz, as in that niche blogger extraordinaire.

jumanjiAs the time that photo was taken, the gates had not yet opened. The Diamond, like a nihilistic interpretation of existence, was a vast sea of emptiness. (The sponsored banners laid across the uppermost sections have reduced seating capacity, which still stands at a spacious 9500.)


Out on the concourse, it should be noted that carnival games are named in honor of the team’s top brass (Chucky, in this case, is chief executive manager Chuck Domino). More teams should follow the Flying Squirrels lead in this regard, because kids love Minor League executives and always pester their parents for money whenever they see any kind of entertainment option that features Minor League executives.

015The team store used to be a restaurant. Noted.

016The main concourse of The Diamond is located on the stadium’s second level (field level consists of storage areas, the clubhouses, batting cages, Parker’s pigpen, Parney’s pigpen, front offices, etc.) There is also a third-level upper concourse, accessible via staircases such as the above.


The press box is accessible via the upper level concourse. Most of its denizens had already enjoyed a pregame meal courtesy of Bojangles fried chicken and biscuits.


Jay Burnham, Flying Squirrels media relations director and soon-to-be lead broadcaster (current lead Jon Laaser recently accepted a job as voice of the Hokies) was feverishly preparing for what would surely be another stellar broadcast.

020Not wishing to disturb a broadcasting professional, I tiptoed back down to field level.

021This time around, the field was less deserted. First of all, I made the acquaintance of on-field emcee Mike Murphy, better known simply as “Murph”. Murph, decked out in his finest Jumanji regalia, had a microphone in his pocket and seemed happy to see me.

023And, hey, look, it’s Nutzy, just back from the gym. No theme night attire needed for this guy.


For Nutzy, it was time to fly off to parts unknown. For me, it was time to descend into the dugout and conduct an interview with Flying Squirrels reliever Phil McCormick.


I usually don’t interview players for normal reasons, and this was no exception.

Earlier, when I was in the press box, Burnham had tipped me off to the existence of a recently created Flying Squirrels music video entitled “Biagini in a Bottle.” The song, a parody of Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle,” is a tribute to pitcher Joe Biagini sung by McCormick as writhes around in a purple onesie.

After speaking with McCormick I interviewed Biagini, the man himself. I then emerged onto the field just in time to throw out a ceremonial first pitch. I had been on a ceremonial first pitch hot streak this season, firing perfect strike after perfect strike, but all good things must come to an end.

My first pitch was so bad, in fact, that the weather turned awful as soon as I threw it. God sees all, and He was displeased.


And so, to start the evening, a rain delay it would be. Would this be the end of my Richmond Flying Squirrels experience? Or will I somehow milk two more posts out of it? Only time will tell.

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.


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


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


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).


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, 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.


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.


“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.


017This gentleman, sitting in an 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.





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!



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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.

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.

urinal_cakes (2)

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!



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.”


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.)

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 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!


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.”


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.


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.

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.


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