Results tagged ‘ Hillsboro Hops ’

Return to the Road: Gems and Craters in the Pacific Northwest

Okay, for real this time: Today’s post marks the last occasion in which I “Return to the Road” in order to write about my 2013 West Coast trip. My next post will include all four of this season’s road trip itineraries, the first of which kicks off on April 28 in Albuquerque.

So where did I leave off?

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Oh, right: In Klamath Falls, Ore., home of the collegiate wood bat league Gems. I arrived in Klamath Falls at the end of a travel day, choosing it as a place to spend the night so that I could visit Crater Lake the next morning before moving on to Hillsboro to check out the Hops. Seeing a baseball game during my brief time in Klamath Falls was not something I planned on doing; in fact, I hadn’t even been aware of the Gems existence until the front desk clerk at the Days Inn alerted me to the fact that a game was going on. While I had been looking forward to a night off from the ballpark routine, seeing the Gems was just too serendipitous of an opportunity to pass up. Kiger Stadium, an all-wood facility constructed in 1948, happened to be locating just across the street from where I was staying!

So, I did what any self-respecting baseball fan would do in such a situation: I hightailed it on over there in order to catch what remained of the ballgame. Kiger, as you can see, delivers a rustic and picturesque baseball environment.

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Kiger Stadium hosted the Far West League Klamath Falls Gems from 1948-51, but since then all of the baseball played there has been of the amateur variety (the Gems are in the West Coast League, comprised of premier collegiate players). From the Kiger Stadium website (which, as you’ll see, hasn’t been updated in a few years):

Kiger Stadium has been far from empty during years since the Far West League. The ballpark has been home to tens of thousands of American Legion, Babe Ruth League, college and high school games through the years. In 2011, Oregon Tech, Mazama High School, the Klamath Falls Falcons and Hawks (American Legion) and local Babe Ruth Baseball teams will call the historic ballpark home.

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I also discovered that the 1951 Gems squad included game show host Bert Convy. This is the picture that accompanies Convoy’s Wikipedia page:

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In addition to hosting Tattletales, Super Password, and Win, Lose or Draw, Convoy was an actor whose myriad roles included sleazeball Glenn Hamilton in the soap opera Love of Live. He also appeared in the in the pilot episode of Murder, She Wrote and directed the Goodspeed Opera House premiere of the musical Zapata (which featured music and lyrics written by Harry Nilsson, one of my all-time heroes).

Before falling down this internet rabbit hole any further, let me get back to the matter at hand: Kiger Stadium, circa 2014.

047By the time I arrived at the stadium it was the bottom of the fourth inning. No one was manning the front entrance, and I just strolled right in.

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The seventh inning stretch was a charming experience, a six-second snippet of which can be viewed HERE (man, I wish I could embed Vine videos on this blog). Once that requisite bit of national pastime tradition was in the books, I moved over to the bleacher seating area located down the first base line.

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Tater the mascot. coming through:

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The existence of Tater tipped me off to the fact that potatoes must be important to Klamath Falls. And, of course, they are. Here’s an overview of the region’s potato history, courtesy of the internet.

I didn’t get any food while I was at Kiger, potatoes or otherwise, and my photos of the concession stand are, unfortunately, non-existent. Kiger is unique, however, in that the concession stand was located indoors, at the end of a hallway.

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Klamath Falls is home to spuds, and it’s also home to bugs. This photo only hints at just how many winged creatures were swarming the lamp posts at the end of the evening.

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This lackluster act of bug documentation was the last thing I did while at Kiger Stadium. With the Gems game in the books, I headed back across the street to the Days Inn and got a good night’s sleep in advance of waking up bright and early in order to visit Crater Lake.

Crater Lake, located about an hour from Klamath Falls, is, to put it simply, the most beautiful place that I have ever visited in my life. Formed within a caldera created by the collapse of a volcano, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in America (nearly 2000 feet) and the water boasts a deep blue color that seems almost otherwordly. I would have loved to have spent several days here, camping, hiking, boating, and taking in the view from the lodge. Instead I had to settle for 90 minutes of idle wandering along the upper perimeter instead. Not ideal, but beggars can’t be choosers.

I don’t have a particularly high quality camera, nor am I a particularly skilled photographer. Crater Lake is just this beautiful:

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The high rollers of south central Oregon travel to Crater Lake in limousines with Mitt Romney bumper stickers and chintzy advertisements emblazoned across the sides.

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Motorcycles are a far more common mode of transportation, however, at least on this particular morning.

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After (reluctantly) leaving Crater Lake, I got lunch at Highway 97’s self-proclaimed best restaurant.

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And then it was on to Hillsboro, home of the Hops. (My time with the Northwest League’s newest entity was chronicled HERE). After a night game and a day game in Hillsboro, the trip (and my 2013 travel in general) came to a conclusion in Portland. I spent one evening there before flying back to New York City, with fellow MLBAM employee Jared Ravech serving as a tour guide. Here I am, blocking the view.

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I had a really fun evening in Portland, but at this point it’s all kind of a blur. Pinball was definitely involved.

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And that — finally! mercifully! — is that. The next post on this blog will contain this season’s road trip itineraries. Here we go again…

(In the meantime, should you be looking for something to read, check out my new book round-up on MiLB.com)

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Firsts among Lasts in Hillsboro

When Part One of this Hillsboro dispatch concluded I was standing in the tunnel adjacent to the visitor’s dugout, ready and waiting to participate in a between-inning contest. The kneepads were affixed and the blindfold was on, but then something got in the way of my imminent humiliation. Let’s go to the Vine.

This turned into a torrential downpour in a hurry, and the game continued a minute or two longer than it really should have. This continuation of play in the midst of severe precipitation was much to the consternation of the Dust Devils dugout.

In the above Vine it’s not profanity that you hear, but an angry cry of “That’s Bolshevik!” I constantly heard this word in Minor League dugouts this season, and still don’t quite understand the connotation, but shortly after hearing this word yelled in their direction the umpires did indeed agree to the cessation of play. My moment of on-field “glory” would have to wait.

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Cue the interrobang because guess what?! This was THE FIRST RAIN DELAY IN HILLSBORO HOPS HISTORY. I’ve been to a lot of ballparks in my life, and seen a lot of things, but never have I witnessed a meteorological event as significant as this. I and the 3,528 fans in attendance on this sodden August Oregon evening will always be able to say, the pride evident in our respective voices, that “I was there.” (To the Hops front office: when you do the inevitable “First Franchise Rain Delay” commemorative t-shirt giveaway next season, please make sure to send one my way.)

The good news was that the turf at Hillsboro Ballpark was of the artificial variety, and therefore not much was needed in the way of tarp application: all that needed coverage was the pitcher’s mound and batter’s box.  The bad news was that the grounds crew, for several agonizing minutes, was nowhere to be found (I think they were doing work on one of the other fields in the athletic complex of which Hillsboro Ballpark is a part?)

But, eventually, the grounds crew showed up and everything was put in order.

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“Dude, first rain delay in franchise history and we were the ones who got to call it!” is what I’m pretty sure this umpire was saying to his cohort. (I’m sure there are some people who will call bolshevik on that quote, but I stand by it.)

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The grounds crew might not have been totally prepared for the rain delay, but Barley was.

The rains were fast, furious, and fleeting (alliterative life metaphor). After approximately half an hour the adorable mini-tarps were taken off the field, and the grounds crew started tamping things back into shape. As they did, a marriage proposal played out on the videoboard.

“There may have been a brief cessation in play, but there will never be a cessation of our love,” said the man.

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I wish that couple all the best, but, for me, the promise of lifelong love took a backseat to the threat of imminent humiliation. (I’m used to it). “Here we are now, entertain us,” demanded this throng of Pacific Northwesterners….

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and the Hops obliged by sending me out on to the field blindfolded, spinning me around in circles, and then leaving me to the mercy of the crowd’s ostensibly accurate “warmer/colder” exhortations as a means to locate some sort of prize box.

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Colder.

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Colder:

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Colder.

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Colder.

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Coldest.

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Whatever. I didn’t want whatever was in that box anyway. It probably, like, had gluten in it or something.

Not that I had time to be a sore loser anyway, as immediately after my final on-field failure of the season I scurried up to the second level and did a half-inning on the radio with Hops announcer Rich Burk.

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Burk is a veteran broadcaster with far more credentials than your average Class A Short Season shot-caller, as, among other things, he served as the Portland Beavers’ play-by-play man until their departure for Tucson following the 2010 campaign. During the half-inning I was on the air we talked about my travels  in general and, more specifically, the fact that I suffer from the ceremonial first pitch version of Steve Blass disease. (I felt dizzy throughout, still feeling the effects of my on-field humiliation.)

And that was that. I took a broadcast booth selfie and then commenced to wander about by myself for a bit.

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The solo wandering didn’t start off so well, as I ducked in to an upper level bathroom and then left quickly under duress upon seeing a Playtex dispenser. I thought I had somehow ended up in a women’s room, but it turned out that it was a unisex bathroom and, therefore, my gender confusion was unwarranted. Whew! The last thing I need is people starting rumors that they saw Ben’s Biz walking into the ladies room with a camera and a notebook.

Anyway, here’s a picture that I took just outside the unisex bathroom. It depicts right-hander Blake Perry (or at least I think that’s Blake Perry), who never actually pitched for the Hops. But he did pitch for Hops’ predecessor the Yakima Bears in 2011 and 2012, meaning that his Arizona Diamondbacks Class A Short Season credentials remain impeccable.

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 Wherefore art thou, press box denizens? In line for the unisex bathroom?

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The seating bowl below these invisible media members was far more lively.

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As I observed last season in Eugene and (especially) Vancouver, the Northwest League is home to some grade-A baseball fans (although, in Vancouver, that would be “grade-eh”).

“Having Too Much Fun May Distract From the Actual Game” went one of the lighthearted stadium signs…

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but I found this one to be more apropos.

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I’m going to let the Vine do the talking.

But, as with everything else in life, there are two sides to every story. (Also, I have no idea what that kid is wearing on his head.)

After following the fair weather fans outside so that I could harangue them further, I got distracted by the public art project that was detailed in Part One of this Hillsboro blog series.  It looked more beautiful at night, because everything does.

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I made it back inside in time for “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” which is sung nightly by Burk while leaning out of the press box (he used to do the same while broadcasting at Portland’s PGE Park).

The stretch is followed by the House of Pain parody “Hop Around,” in which Barley and game day employees lead the crowd in, yes, hopping around. My attempt to document said hopping on this particular evening was a failure.

But the Hops players didn’t join me on board the failure train, however, as they scored three runs in the seventh to secure a 6-3 victory over (didn’t) Tri (hard enough) City. A word to the wise: once a Hops game ends, wait a few minutes before trying to exit the stadium. Otherwise you’ll end up in an agonizingly slow line of disproportionately white-haired people.

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Now, under normal circumstances, the post would end here. But these are not normal circumstances, as I attended the following afternoon’s game as well. This was my final day at the ballpark, not just of this road trip but of 2013 overall, and it turned out to be a beautiful afternoon.

On the way into Hillsboro Ballpark I put together a whimsical signage Vine:

Upon arriving I conducted a couple of interviews that would eventually form the basis of THIS STORY about the farcical events that surrounded the first home run in Hillsboro Hops history. One of those interviews brought me down to the home dugout.

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003Seeing that Hillsboro logo reminds me that, somehow, I never visited the team store during my two days at Hillsboro Ballpark. The Hops were the number-one selling team on the Minor League Baseball merch charts at the time that I visited, thanks to an enthusiastic reception from the local fan base combined with interest nationwide from baseball fans/beer aficionados who were simply enamored with the team name and logo.

The players mingled on the field while the fans mingled out front.

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I toe the line when it comes to the gluten-free diet that celiac disease has imposed upon me.

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But, this being the Hops and all, I still felt compelled to document their signature Long Ball Ale to an extent greater than I had in the previous post. Therefore, I issued the following tweet:

Soon enough, a season ticket holder named Dani Mullen approached me and said “So, anyone get that beer yet?” The answer was no, of course, so the beer became hers.

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Dani is originally from Fort Wayne (hence the TinCaps t-shirt), but moved to Oregon after 13 years of living in Arizona. She and her husband Allan were fans of Rich Burk when he called games for the Beavers, and she told me that having him here in Hillsboro was “the icing on the cake” when it comes to being a Hops fan. In fact, it was through her listening to my interview with Burk the night before that she knew who I was in the first place.

But anyway, Dani said that the Long Ball Ale was “good, a little bitter, and very hearty. It gets better as you drink it.”

Thanks, Dani, for being the first “designated drinker” in Ben’s Biz Blog history. (Perhaps I can recruit individuals for this position during my 2014 road trips?)

Allan, Dani, and Long Ball Ale:

012My pace was leisurely during this, my last “On the Road” ballgame of the 2013 season. I got some garlic fries and ate ‘em on the outfield berm.

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I made it back to the area behind home plate in time for “Hop Around.”

And then spent an inning watching the game with Bob Webster, a recently retired Intel employee who is now writing a book on the history of the Northwest League.

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Bob, a member of the SABR Bio Committee, encourages anyone with information or suggestions pertaining to NWL history to contact him at bob234@comcast.net

Meanwhile, the professionals on the field soon gave way to amateurs.

021022 Which gave way to my belated realization that I have a couple of ballpark panorama photos to share.

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And that, finally, is all I have to share from the road. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for an offseason of plentiful content (including the 1000th post in Ben’s Biz Blog history).

Until then, goodbye from Hillsboro.

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benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: On the Cusp of a Historical First in Hillsboro

My last stop on this West Coast road trip, and in 2013 overall, was Hillsboro, Oregon. This marked the first time that I visited Oregon since way back in, well, 2012, when I stopped by Eugene and Salem-Keizer on my way into Washington and, eventually, the foreign soil of Vancouver, Canada. But I had a reason to return to this area so quickly, as Hillsboro is home to 2013’s lone new team: the Hops of the Northwest League. The Hops are the franchise formerly known as the Yakima Bears, whom I also visited last season, and while the primary owners and much of the front office staff remained intact these two baseball environments have virtually nothing else in common. Go ahead and contrast this post with the Yakima dispatch linked to above and you’ll see what I mean.

The Hops fill the Portland-area professional baseball void that has existed ever since the Pacific Coast League Portland Beavers departed for Tucson following the 2010 season, and as such the fledgling franchise can draw on a deeply-engaged and (perhaps more important when it comes to long-term success) deep-pocketed fan base. Intel and Nike both have headquarters in Hillsboro, and visible from the stadium are construction cranes working on Intel’s multi-billion dollar research facility. It boggles the mind, really — just a few days ago I had been in Stockton, a city that had recently declared bankruptcy, and now here I was in an environment surrounded by construction projects with 10-digit price tags.

Hillsboro Ballpark is a city-owned facility built within a pre-existing parks and rec complex, and as such the acreage is vast and the parking ample. When I pulled into the lot, the parking attendant would not take my “I’m a member of the media” claim at face value, and waited until I was able to extract a pass from the detritus on the passenger seat floor.

“Okay, that’s good,” she told me. “I had to check, because you could’ve just been a blogger.”

Thanking her for her diligence, I pulled into my space and took in the view.

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My first impression was that the structure seen in the above photo was Hillsboro Ballpark. But that impression, like most of the primary variety, was erroneous. That structure was a football field, with Hillsboro Ballpark situated just behind it.

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The above two facilities have a symbiotic relationship with one another. The Hops’ primary concession stands — which we shall see in a bit — are located in the football stadium, facing outward toward Hillsboro Ballpark’s third base side concourse.

Getting to the stadium from the parking lot was a bit of a hike, but whimsical signage insured that my spirits remained high throughout the journey.

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 My walking Cramps dissipated after seeing the ballpark’s Lux Exterior.

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Said exterior included this interactive public art project, entitled Barometer.

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Per sculptor Devin Laurence Field, Barometer “takes the overall triangular form of the baseball diamond held aloft by columns and illuminated with color changing, sound activated LED lights….Around the sculpture are various ‘instruments’ people can play, a giant horn, a rattle roller, drum sets and chimes that together form a symphony of sounds. When no one is at the park there is no colored light, when there is noise it lights up — the louder the noise, the brighter the light. The art is a veritable Barometer of excitement for the ballpark.”

Soon after arriving I embarked upon a ballpark tour with Hops general manager K.L. Wombacher, who re-located with the team from Yakima. K.L., he’s a serious guy.

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On the concourse, K.L. and I soon ran into team owners Laura and Mike McMurray. To say that they are enthusiastic about their new locale would be an understatement. Mike told me that after 13 years in Yakima, Hillsboro seemed like “heaven.”

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As mentioned before, Hillsboro marks the return of professional baseball to the Portland area after a two-year hiatus. The below display preserves some of the “final” items in Portland Beavers’ history, thus serving as a bridge to the present.

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K.L. told me that while suites were part of the original stadium design, the club instead opted for open air party decks. The Hops’ status as a short-season team played a major role in that decision.

“The weather here from mid-June through September is just awesome, some of the best in the country,” said K.L. “During this time of year, people don’t want to be enclosed.”

The view from the top, game day employees in day-glo.

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At this juncture game time was imminent, with Dust Devils and Hops alike gathering in anticipation.

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And, hey, look! It’s Barley, the Hops’ mascot. Due to the prohibitions of my gluten-free lifestyle, I had to keep my distance.

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Barley is a hop, and the Hops are called the Hops because of Hillsboro’s proximity to some of Oregon’s most bounteous hop farms. (Worth noting, and a bit ironic, is the fact that the Hops’ former home of Yakima was even more plentiful in the hop department.)

It was “Breast Cancer Awareness Night” at the ballpark, and this led to a cool moment. K.L.’s mom, Bev, is a 13-year breast cancer survivor and earlier that day she had been told that she had been selected for first pitch duties. She got a big round of applause, led by her son, prior to delivering the pitch and it was a heartwarming and truly spontaneous moment.

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Heartwarming then gave way to plain ol’ adorable, as this young fan swept home plate.

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Manager-Umpire relationships are volatile and subject to change at any moment, but at the exact moment in time in which this picture was taken everything was copacetic.

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The Hops’ players were more than ready to take the field, save for the guy on the far left who was more into perfecting his Eminem impersonation.

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“Come to gluten,” says Barley.

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With an ominous cloud looming overhead, Barney and his less-glutenous ballplaying friends stood at attention as we honored our country through the singing of our National Anthem. (The flags were at half mast that day, in honor of a firefighter killed in action in Albany, Oregon.)

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The completion of the “Star-Spangled Banner” means that it’s time to play ball. So, with Class A Short-Season Northwest League action as the backdrop, I took a lap of the facility.

One of the first areas that I encountered was Hot Dog Nation,  a presumably sovereign entity with non-existent border security. At said nation a standard-issue hot dog costs $3.75, and specialties include the Foot-Long, Hoppin’ Jalapeno, Philly Dog, and Chicago Dog.

074The Hops name, when it was first announced, drew acclaim from beer drinkers nationwide. Ale aficionados and IPA artisans alike allowed themselves to imagine Hillsboro Ballpark as some sort of beer drinking mecca, with baseball as the centerpiece of a thriving micro-brew scene. For now, however, the beer selection is modest as just three are on tap.

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Two of these three beers are provided by the local BridgePort brewing company: Hop Czar and Long Ball Ale. That latter brew, a light and citrus-y summer ale, was sold exclusively at Hillsboro Ballpark and, as such, is the official team beer. The gentleman working the “Brew Pen” taps was, not surprisingly, biased toward BridgePort products. I repeatedly heard him explain the merits of both the Hop Czar and Long Ball Ale in detail, and then follow up those descriptions with a tossed-off “Or, of course, you could have the watered-down American lager.” (Also known as Coors Light.)

I’ll have more on Long Ball Ale in Part Two of this post (oh, yes, there is always a Part Two), but this lap around the perimeter of the ballpark wasn’t going to walk itself. Time to keep on movin’ on.

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A cool feature of Hillsboro Ballpark is that, despite limited room to work with in certain areas, the Hops went out of their way to make the concourse of the 360-degree variety.  The right and center field berm area is very narrow, before opening up into a more traditionally vast expanse in left field.

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The view toward the field: 081And the view behind the berm:

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I admired this father and son duo, who were sticking it to the man by watching the game for free from beyond the fence.

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The bullpen denizens don’t pay to watch the game either.

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As mentioned, more traditional bermage can be found in left field.

087 - Copy And looping around to the third base side there was, of course, more food to be found. As mentioned previously, this concession stand is actually located in the adjacent football stadium.

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Mannequin or real person?

At this point I was introduced to Tony Hendryx and Tim Watters. The former, on the left, is regional vice president of Ovations food services. The latter, on the right, is an Ovations operation manager. (Or would that be a “Hoperations Manager”?)

095If there’s one thing I learned this season while on the road, it’s that food and beverage guys are way more enthusiastic about their jobs than the average person is about his or hers. These guys were no exception, and Hendryx, an Oregon native, spoke excitedly about how the Hops’ mid-June through September season matches Oregon’s growing season and, therefore, the team makes sure to use fresh, local ingredients whenever possible. (“If we can keep it out of the freezer, we do,” said Hendryx.”)

At this point in the blog post you have probably become accustomed to me introducing the “designated eater.” (You know, the individual recruited to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). But, in this case, “designated eating” was largely eschewed in favor of highlighting two of the Hops’ gluten-free options.

091 Oh, hey, hi, that’s me with a salmon burger (on a gluten-free bun, natch) and a Cobb salad.

The salmon burger was made of locally caught (never frozen) fish glazed with a brown sugar and garlic powder marinade then grilled and served with fried onions. I wish I had taken a close-up pic of just the salmon, as it was sweet and succulent and one of the best items I had at a ballpark this season. But you get the idea.

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And here’s the Cobb salad, with Hendryx explaining that the chicken was from Carlton,Oregon, the hazelnuts grown in the Willamette Valley, the cranberries grown in local bogs and the blue cheese from Rogue River creamery of Central Point, Oregon.

Not that there is all that much competition, but I am going to declare this the best salad currently served at a Minor League ballpark. If you disagree, then get in touch and I will be happy to give your dissent a public airing.

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I wasn’t totally alone in my culinary consumption, however. Meet Hops marketing intern Erik Knutsen, who was recruited to serve as a designated eater should the need arise for some designated eating. Knutsen was the most unenthused and underused designated eater in Ben’s Biz history; here he is with a Long Ball Ale that he was wary about drinking given that he was on the job.

092 Knutsen was a mite bit more enthusiastic about this Zenner’s-brand hot dog, topped with onions and nacho cheese.

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“It tastes really good,” said Erik in a deadpan monotone. “Party.”

This party was cut short, however, as I had been recruited to participate in a between-inning contest. The beer, it was abandoned.

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Erik and I headed down to the visitor’s dugout area, where I was equipped with a helmet, blindfold, and kneepads. I don’t know the exact name of this game I was going to play, but it bore a strong similarity to that which I made a fool of myself doing in Wisconsin. Basically, an object is placed on the field and I, through the crowd’s “hot” or “cold” exhortations, had to find it.

The sting of Wisconsin-based on-field failure was still fresh in my mind, and I was ready for some Oregon-style redemption.

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Except, no. My shot at redemption was postponed due to unforeseen circumstances.

What unforeseen circumstances, you might ask? Well, here’s my answer to that question:

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All will be revealed in Part Two of this Hillsboro saga, which, sadly, will be 2013’s final “On the Road” post. We’ll always have the memories.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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