Results tagged ‘ International League ’
To see all posts from my September 1, 2015 visit to the Pawtucket Red Sox (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.
2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!
The longest baseball game in professional history was played at Pawtucket’s McCoy Stadium. The 33-inning affair began on April 18, 1981, continued into the wee hours of the 19th and was finally, mercifully, completed on June 23. Undoubtedly, this was the most monumental event to ever take place at McCoy Stadium.
The second-most monumental event occurred on September 1, 2015. On that evening, as the PawSox played the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, one Brian O’Connell served as my designated eater.
As designated eater, it would be Brian’s task to consume the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits. As you can see from the above picture, he’s in good shape and doesn’t appear to be the sort of guy who gorges himself on concession stand fare. But he was up for the challenge.
“I’ve got no issues with it at all,” he said. “I ate healthy earlier today, so no worries.”
Brian is a Providence native who now lives in nearby Swansea, Massachusetts. He works out of Providence as a legal admin, and is also a soccer journalist whose work appears on the the website nesoccertoday.com. (In my notes this read “anysoccertoday.com,” which would be a good resource for those curious about game times and what not).
Brian’s soccer fandom came about later in life, but he’s been a baseball fan since birth. He played throughout his childhood, and started attending games at McCoy Stadium from the time he was seven years old. He was an intern for the PawSox in 2001, and said that the craziest thing he witnessed that season was this immortal Izzy Alcantara meltdown:
When it comes to their food offerings, the PawSox are significantly less crazy than an enraged Izzy Alcantara. Eric Petterson, the team’s director of concessions, said that the basics are king. Hot dogs, supplied by Kayem, are the number one offering at concourse stands such as these.
But with all due respect, hot dogs are boring. Brian and I, with crucial assistance from Eric, decided to highlight the PawSox’s regional specialties instead. We began with clam cakes, which Eric called “the quintessential New England fried food. And this is the quintessential way to serve it, in a white paper bag.”
The clam cakes are supplied by Blount, a Rhode Island-based clam shack with four area locations. The only thing more quintessentially New England than eating Blount clam cakes out of a white paper bag is dipping said clam cakes into a cup of Blount clam chowder.
“It’s way better than the red New York chowder,” said Eric, provincially and accurately. “We started selling it three years ago.”
Brian was excited to try this time-honored combination.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) September 1, 2015
“It’s a good pairing,” said Brian. “The crunch of the clam cakes to go with the thickness of the chowder. It’s like a sauce. One complements the other, perfectly.”
Brian washed down his clam combo with Del’s, a regionally-beloved brand of frozen lemonade. I’m not sure why he looks so concerned about doing this.
“Del’s is definitely a southeast New England thing, specifically a Rhode Island thing,” said Brian. “If there’s an official beverage of the state, then it would probably be Del’s. Well, that or coffee milk. I’ve been told that if you go across the state line and ask for coffee milk, they think you’re asking for milk in your coffee. You don’t have to venture far to find people who have never heard of it.”
I was intrigued by this tangent, as I had never heard of “coffee milk” either. And, sorry Del’s, but Wikipedia informs me that coffee milk actually is the official state drink of Rhode Island — “a sweetened coffee concentrate called coffee syrup [added] to milk in a matter similar to chocolate milk.”
We move on from that piece of information to a piece of pizza.
But no matter what the brand, it’s better to eat pizza off of a plate.
Despite being an upgrade over Papa Gino’s, Brian said that this slice “left a little to be desired.”
“It could have more flavor,” he said. “It could be a little zestier.”
We were gonna call it a night after the pizza, but Eric suggested that Brian eat some fries.
“Nothing’s number one in front of hot dogs, but the shoestring fries are a signature item,” he said. “You can get a lot for not a lot of money.”
After taking a hearty swig of Del’s, Brian gave his final thoughts on the PawSox designated eating experience.
“It was great. I didn’t even know about the clam cakes and chowder. Blount’s is somewhat famous and I didn’t expect that it would be here. That was a good move. They are a super local staple.”
Oh, and speaking of super local staples, Brian suggested that the PawSox should offer the Rhode Island specialty that are Coney Island System hot dogs (also known as “New York System” or simply “Hot Wieners”).
“They’ve got to hire one of those guys who lines ’em all up on his arm.”
The future of PawSox concessions? Brian can dream.
To see all posts from my September 1, 2015 visit to the Pawtucket Red Sox (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.
2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!
The previous PawSox post was a lengthy and discursive overview of both team and stadium history, interwoven into a contextualizing “pregame wandering” narrative. No promises, but it is my intent to keep this post — Part Two in the series — short and simple.
It was September 1, 2015 and the PawSox were taking on the Lehigh Valley IronPigs in a Tuesday evening contest. Both teams were out of postseason contention, but the show must go on.
I spent the first several innings of the ballgame in close commiseration with my designated eater (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). That will be documented in the next post.
By the time I returned to the stands, darkness had descended upon us all.
I then spent the next couple of innings cataloging the observations of longtime PawSox fans dismayed at the team’s proposed move to Providence. Read all about it.
These conversations were followed by a requisite bout of wandering, which eventually brought me to the outfield berm.
AMERICA: McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket. https://t.co/hfFiw0sMut
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) September 2, 2015
I thought that the above Vine came out really well, and that people on social media would pick up on it, but that didn’t happen. Oh, well. I’m used to it. I’ll just be out here by my lonesome being brilliant, for however long it takes for the world to catch on. I’m like the Melville of baseball bloggers, and while there are distinct downsides to one’s legacy being posthumous it just shows that I’m ahead of my time.
Seeking the mental clarity that often results from a new perspective, I made a rapid ascendance to the top of the stadium. The PawSox were wrapping up a speedy 10-2 victory over the IronPigs. Rich Hill, who I interviewed a decade ago, struck out nine over seven innings and earned the win.
The game may have been over, but the evening would not be complete without a Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) September 2, 2015
On the way out of the stadium, I passed through yet another shrine to the long and distinguished history of McCoy Stadium. As mentioned in the last post, this kind of stuff can be found all throughout the ballpark. It is a living museum, in perpetual celebration of itself.
Rick, in addition to being a likable and outgoing guy, is a fellow blogger. Check out his “Rollin’ With Rick” blog, which recently dedicated a post to my evening at McCoy. One of Rick’s long term goals is to dethrone me from my #1″MiLB Pro” ranking on MLBlogs, but I’m ready for the fight.
Anyhow, outside in the parking lot after the game, Rick and I kept tabs on the nightly autograph scrum. I’d never seen this before, but the PawSox have established a separate “kid’s only” autograph line. That’s a pretty cool innovation, as it gives them some separation from the middle-aged adults who comprise the majority of the autograph collecting ecosystem.
And that just about did it for my one (and thus far only) evening at McCoy Stadium. On behalf of a faded concourse image of Ernie Whitt, I bid you all goodnight.
To see all posts from my September 1, 2015 visit to the Pawtucket Red Sox (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.
2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!
The fourth stop on my fifth road trip of the season marked the first time that my Minor League travels had taken me to Rhode Island. There is only one Minor League Baseball team in Rhode Island, and that team is the Pawtucket Red Sox. The PawSox, as they are often referred to as, have spent the entirety of their existence at McCoy Stadium.
As you can see in the above photo, McCoy Stadium is located on Ben Mondor Way. Ben Mondor bought the PawSox in 1977, when their financial situation was dire, and turned the team into one of the most well-regarded operations in the industry. Two of his key employees then, Mike Tamburro and Lou Schwechheimer, went on to log decades of service with the club. Tamburro remains the CEO, and Schwechheimer stepped down as vice president following the 2015 season. The PawSox, all the way around, have been a model of consistency. They operate in the league’s oldest stadium, boast its longest-running affiliation and have a front office core that has been with the club for decades.
But nothing lasts forever. Mondor died in 2010 at the age of 85, and this past February his widow, Madeline, sold the team to a Boston Red Sox-affiliated ownership group which immediately announced its intent to move the team to the neighboring city of Providence. To say that this relocation plan has been controversial would be an understatement. Emotions have run high from the start, and everybody in Rhode Island seems to have an opinion. And, usually, it’s been a negative opinion.
The PawSox relocation controversy was front page news on the day that I visited. This machine was situated just down the street from the stadium.
To sum it all up: The Paw Sox will be playing AT LEAST two more seasons at McCoy Stadium, and probably more than that (the current lease expires in 2020). This post and those that follow will simply focus on what it is like to attend a game at McCoy. That’s where I was on this low-key Tuesday evening, and that’s where they’ll be for the foreseeable future.
The Right Spot Diner, probably the most visible and best-known business in the immediate vicinity of the stadium, serves three meals and day and specializes in “Hot Wieners.” This is a Rhode Island-specific form of hot dog, which, according to Wikipedia, are also sometimes referred to as “Gaggers.” I went in before the game, sat on the counter, and got a hamburger steak with green beans. It just seemed like the right thing to do.
Moving toward the stadium proper, I was greeted not by a hot wiener but by a cool bear.
The bear’s name is Paws.
McCoy Stadium is, in a word, venerable. There is a lot of history here, and much of this history is commemorated within the facility’s hallways, stairways, offices and ramps. I would bet that, taken together, no stadium in Minor League Baseball contains more team-specific memorabilia than does McCoy.
McCoy’s main entrance is located out toward left field, so one of my first views of the playing field proper came from this vantage point. This is a stadium that immediately felt unique. Even after an extensive renovation (in 1999), there is nothing cookie-cutter about it.
Souvenirs are available on the concourse.
On the concourse, one finds an extensive homage to McCoy’s biggest claim to fame. In 1981, the stadium hosted the longest professional baseball game of all time. The game, between the PawSox and Rochester Red Wings, took 33 innings to complete. 32 of these frames were played on April 18 and 19th.
McCoy Stadium – home of the longest game in professional baseball history. https://t.co/ny4Bh8YL1y
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) September 1, 2015
For what it’s worth, here’s what the team’s 1981 program looked like. None of the three players that this boy is dreaming about — Dave Stapleton, Glenn Hoffman, John Tudor — played in “The Longest Game.”
Another great “McCoy Stadium Moment” occurred in 1999, when Paw Sox outfielder Michael Coleman went 7-for-7 and hit for the cycle in a 25-2 rout of Norfolk. As this sign notes, Coleman “became the first player in the history of professional baseball to go 7-for-7 and hit for the cycle in the same game.” Coleman played 22 games over part of three Major League seasons (1997, 1999, 2001) and didn’t hit for the cycle over the entirety of his MLB career (he collected eight hits, including one double and one home run).
Baseball is a rabbit hole. I’m always getting lost.
There is a ramp leading from the upper-level aisle into the press box, which looms above and in front of a section of seating. I don’t think that I’d ever seen that before.
The McCoy broadcaster’s booth, which in 2014 was occupied by Josh Maurer and Will Flemming, has long been a hotbed of future big league talent. I wrote an article about this phenomenon for MiLB.com last offseason (after PawSox broadcaster Jeff Levering was hired by the Brewers), and that article was reprinted in the Paw Sox’s 2015 yearbook.
Pass the mic:
Every Minor League broadcaster wants to eventually get to the big leagues. But Pawtucket is a good place to be in the interim, as the listening audience is far bigger than the average team’s.
McCoy Stadium also has what is considered to be the best press box spread in Minor League Baseball. Several people told me this, and despite the small sample size I would have to concur. If you work in the Minors, then you know how rare it is to get a healthy, balanced press box meal. What a perk.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) September 1, 2015
I was in attendance during a Tuesday night in September, and just like in Lowell the night before I was told that I had picked one of the worst days of the season to visit. I seem to have a knack for doing such a thing.
But the show, it must go on. It always does and it always will. The dugouts at McCoy are located at field level, directly under the seats (the seating bowl begins 10 feet above the field of play). This unorthodox layout has led to the tradition, seen in the photo below, of placing balls and other memorabilia into milk jugs and buckets for the players to sign. This is why the team store sells an “autograph fishing set.”
On a busy day, dozens of fishing apparatuses would be hanging from the railing as their owners waited for a bite from the players down below. But, again, this wasn’t a busy day. The fishing occurs at both dugouts. Note that here, on the visitor’s side, most of the hanging items are baseball card albums. Time to reel it in, folks, as the game was about to start. The PawSox, following established (but by no means mandatory) protocol, asked me to throw out a first pitch.
Me, thinking about throwing a perfect strike: Me, throwing a perfect first strike: Me, posing with a PawSox player after throwing out a perfect strike. The Paw Sox do it up right when it comes to first pitches, giving each first pitch thrower a commemorative cap and ball as well as a business card including a link to all of that evening’s pregame photos (which is where I got the three seen above).
After throwing out the first pitch, I was directed back into a corridor and, yes. That corridor was packed with memorabilia. Now is as good a time as any to “Paws” this McCoy Stadium saga. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion, which will appear as soon as humanly possible.
To see all of posts from my June 26, 2015 visit to the Norfolk Tides (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.
This, here, is the unassuming facade of ballpark restaurant Hits at the Park.
Located far down the right field line at the Norfolk Tides’ home of Harbor Park, Hits at the Park is a full-service eatery open to all fans during all home games. An “all-you-can-eat” dinner buffet, featuring a rotating menu, costs $18.95.
That’d be the sensible option when it comes to dining at Hits at the Park. There is also, however, an insensible option: The “Salute to Pork” Challenge.
The above platter consists of four BBQ pork sliders, four 4-ounce Cajun-smoked sausages, 12 pork wings (the equivalent of a full rack of ribs) and bacon and chili cheese tots. It’s five pounds of food altogether, and the challenge is to eat it in one hour or less. Those who do so receive the meal for free (a $60 value), as well as a celebratory “I Kicked the Big Pig” t-shirt and four tickets to an upcoming ballgame. Most importantly, successful pork-eaters attain enshrinement on the “Big Pig Wall-O-Fame” (located just inside the restaurant entrance).
Only three individuals have ever completed the challenge successfully.
Yep, that dude on the bottom completed the challenge with just 30 seconds to spare. That must have been one of the greatest moments in Hits at the Park history.
The “Little Piggy Wall-O-Shame” has far more occupants. Whereas three have succeeded, several dozen had failed.
Prior to visiting Harbor Park, I made sure to recruit a designated eater willing to take on the Salute to Pork Challenge. That individual was Andrew Lind, a writer for the local Tidewater News who covers, as he put it, “a little bit of everything.”
Andrew volunteered to be the designated eater (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits) after his college buddy Josh Samuels told him about it. Samuels, the director of social media for the Columbus Clippers, served as my ballpark tour guide when I visited the Clippers last season. (Lind and Samuels are also pals with 2014 Winter Meetings Job Seeker Journal-writer Darius Thigpen, now with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Minor League Baseball is a small world sometimes.)
“He’s never been a good influence on my life,” said Andrew, of Josh.
A good rule of thumb: If signing a waiver is a meal prerequisite, then it’s probably a meal you don’t want to have in the first place.
But Andrew was up for it, regardless. He said that he hadn’t made any specific preparations for the Salute to Pork Challenge, other than to arrive at the ballpark on an empty stomach. His strategy was simply to “put the tater tots off for last” and to not touch the coleslaw.
As it turned out, Andrew would not be undertaking this challenge alone. On the left is one Tyler Rosso, a video intern for a local television station. (And yes, that garbage can is placed between them just in case a so-called “reversal of fortune” occurs.)
Tyler’s late entry into that evening’s Salute to Pork Challenge was, quite frankly, the most baffling moment of the season for me. He just plopped down and took a seat, and since he had media pass I assumed he was one of Andrew’s Tidewater News cronies. Andrew, meanwhile, thought he was somebody I knew. After a few awkward moments, it was revealed that Tyler didn’t know either of us and had simply decided to participate after overhearing a conversation about it in the press box.
I was like “Well, okay, but you do realize that I’ll be documenting this entire event and you’ll be a part of it no matter what happens?”
Tyler assented with an affable shrug, like “Whatever you need to do, dude. I’m just here to eat some pork.”
Well, okay. The more the merrier.
The Pork Challenge platters were brought to our dimly-lit corner location with great fanfare.
In the below video, executive chef Steve Gillette, the mastermind behind the challenge, takes the mic and lays out the rules for everyone in the restaurant. This surreal situation now seemed even more surreal. Tyler isn’t even sitting at the table in the video. Was he a figment of my imagination? He sure seemed like it at the time.
Meanwhile, Andrew’s girlfriend Kayla can be seen sitting next to him. As soon as the Pork Challenge began, however, she went AWOL. (Probably a good decision.)
“I feel bad for him,” said Kayla. “It’s going to be a rough night if he finishes.”
Chef Gillette was expecting this to be an entertaining disaster. You can just see it in his eyes.
Andrew Lind and bonus eater Tyler Rosso, attempting to eat 4 pounds of pork in one hour. https://t.co/GpUu84szgi
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 26, 2015
Now underway, Andrew displayed a momentary burst of confidence.
“The sad thing is, after all this I’ll probably go home and want a snack,” he said.
Cory Evans of Ovations Food Services, seen on the left in the below photo, was the first person to attempt the “Salute to Pork Challenge” after it was devised by Chef Gillette.
“I didn’t tap out, I just ran out of time,” said Cory of his attempt, before turning his attention to the evening’s competitors. “A helpful hint: Don’t drink too much water. Just sip it.”
“It’s the potatoes that get you,” added a nearby waitress, speaking in an emphatic Southern drawl.
But despite such helpful hints and overall moral support, this was a fundamentally lonely endeavor. It is times like these that try men’s souls.
15 minutes down, 45 to go. Norfolk Tides Pork Challenge. https://t.co/jRrHJGA8S8
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 27, 2015
At 8 p.m., Andrew requested ranch dressing.
“It might be heavy, but it will give flavor when you need it,” he explained.
“I’d recommend a little piece of the kale,” countered Tyler. “There’s a lightness to it.”
12 minutes later, Andrew again chimed in.
“The worst part is the chewing,” he said. “The only way to cut down on that is to swallow bigger pieces, but that’s not gonna help you at all.”
We had now reached the half-way point. Andrew’s platter had congealed into a monolithic pork mess.
30 minutes down, 30 minutes to go. Norfolk Tides Pork Challenge. https://t.co/c6AigKXDOy
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 27, 2015
Both competitors, in it for the long haul, decided to stand up and stretch.
“I wish that I had gotten super-drunk before I did this,” said Andrew. “Then it’d go down easy.”
“This would be a good challenge for a stoner,” added Cory.
Chef Gillette stopped by again as well, telling the competitors to ‘Just close your eyes and throw down. Don’t stop. Don’t even listen to what I’m saying.”
“You’re looking pretty good for the halfway point,” he said of Tyler.
Andrew, however, was a different story.
“I’m worried about you. But you’ll both sleep very, very good tonight. I can tell you that much.”
Despite Cory’s positive assessment, Tyler had reached his limit. With no warning whatsoever, he quickly reached over and made good use of the trash can. I snapped a picture of this, nothing graphic, but Tyler has gotten in touch with me to ask that I not use it. Okay, but there’s a lesson here:
If you don’t want anyone to take a picture of you vomiting, then don’t jump unannounced into an eating challenge taking place in a public location and, furthermore, being documented in detail by a member of the media.
“I think it was the sausage that got me,” he said.
“Oh, I gotta move,” he said. “If I see it, then I’ll be the next one to do it.”
One man down, but Designated Eater Andrew Lind still remains. 15 minutes to go in Pork Challenge. https://t.co/BCDghX6OQt
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 27, 2015
Tyler, ever an enigma, declined to take his leftovers and quietly went back upstairs to resume working. Once again, I found myself wondering if he had ever been there at all.
“He don’t want no memories of that,” said a Hits at the Park waitress as she removed the remains of Tyler’s plate.
Andrew, meanwhile, had hit a wall.
“I’m seeing stars, and it threw me off when he threw up,” he said. “I didn’t want to do the same thing.”
But yet, he carried on, moving on to the tater tots because he “couldn’t deal with the meat anymore.”
It was all for naught, however. Andrew simply could not finish in time. Good effort, though, as he made it about three quarters of the way through and had some pork sliders to take home and enjoy later.
The anti-climactic end to Norfolk Tides Pork Challenge. Good effort by designated eater Andrew Lind. https://t.co/VBHFQYsWUb
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 27, 2015
So that’s how it all went down (and, in one instance, came back up). Congratulations to Andrew Lind, a proud member of the “Little Piggy Wall-O-Shame.”
“Never again,” were Andrew’s final words on the topic. But also: “No regrets.”
(Click HERE to read Andrew’s first-hand account of the experience.)
To see all of posts from my June 27, 2015 visit to the Norfolk Tides (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.
So what does Norfolk’s Harbor Park look like on a Friday evening in late June? I’m not going to tell you, I’m going to show you. Telling you would take descriptive writing skills that, quite frankly, I don’t have.
Then above photo depicts the Harbor Park scene on Friday, June 26th, sometime during the middle innings. Truthfully, I didn’t have much to do at this juncture of the evening. My interview with Dave Rosenfield had lasted until sometime in the second inning, at which point I hightailed it down to the “Hits at the Park” restaurant in order to document my designated eater attempt the “Pork Challenge.” This will be documented in the next post.
I feel uncomfortable when I don’t have much to write about, but here we are. Um…here’s an alternate view of the nighttime action. Pretty big stadium, huh? As mentioned in the last post, Harbor Park has a capacity of nearly 12,000. The announced crowd for this contest against the Mud Hens of Toledo was 5,069, slightly below the team’s 5200 average (weird, as, again, this was a Friday night. A bunch of people probably got stuck in Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel traffic and gave up on going to the game).
During my unfocused wanderings, I ran into mascot Rip Tide. Mascots are strange, by default, but I posit that Rip Tide is strange even by mascot standards. I’ve heard of a bulbous nose, but I’d never before seen a basebulbous nose. It doesn’t make scents to me.
Rip Tide wasn’t the only costumed character lurking about.
That’s Reggy the Purple Party Dude, a touring entertainer who may or may not have a large order of fries emerging from his skull. This photo was taken shortly after Reggy delivered a cake to an usher who was celebrating his birthday. Thing is, Reggy tripped and ended up smashing the cake into this guy’s face instead.
Truth be told, because it’s not gonna tell itself: the dude who got caked is Christopher Bruce, who usually performs as Reggy. His recent leg injury, referenced in the below video, has relegated him to bit player status in his own act. But — hey! — the show must go on. Reggy stops for no dude.
As Reggy signed autographs for his fans, I decided that it would be a good time to actually pay attention to the ballgame. Or, at the very least, make a painfully obvious joke about it.
Your groundbreaking and subversive ballpark joke of the day, Norfolk Tides https://t.co/EbheEDR0XX
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 27, 2015
The game stayed tied through the ninth, so extra innings it would be. This picture, taken in the top of the 10th inning, is not of a very good quality. But it is notable, at least to me, in that Toledo’s Mike Hessman was up to bat.
Hessman, 37, is the all-time International League home run leader and has hit 429 total while in the Minor Leagues. Trust me, I’m on top of such things: By virtue of his longevity alone, Hessman is my favorite player in the Minor Leagues. Also, he’s one of a small handful of MiLB players who is older than I am. (When Hessman retires, I’m going to have to re-evaluate my own long-term career goals, because right now my overriding philosophy is “Mike Hessman’s still out there doing what he’s doing, so I’ll keep on doing what I’m doing.”)
Hessman popped out in this 10th-inning at-bat, but the Mud Hens had taken a 4-3 lead thanks to Jefry Marte’s home run to lead off the frame. The Tides did not go quietly in the bottom of the 10th, however. Rey Navarro singled to start the inning and then scored on Christian Walker’s double.
“They better [misspelled expletive deleted] win this,” I wrote in my notebook at this time. “Man on second, no out.”
After Derrik Gibson popped out on a bunt attempt, Steve Clevenger was walked intentionally. (Pantera’s “Walk” was his musical accompaniment as he made his way to first base.) Sean Halton then drew an unintentional walk to load the bases, bringing up Michael Almanzar with a chance to win the game. He did.
“Strange walk-off,” I wrote in my notebook. “Shortstop made a diving stop, but doesn’t throw home because he had no shot. Tides celebration was initially stilted and delayed, like ‘Wait, we won?'”
That was my recollection, at least. In the game log, it says that Almanzar grounded into a 6-5 force out as Walker came around to score the winning run. This makes no sense to me. One, I don’t remember seeing the shortstop throw to third base. Why throw to third in that situation? There was no shot at a double play, and a force out at third base was as good as a hit as far as the Tides were concerned. Something’s fishy here, which I guess is a common occurrence when your stadium is on the banks of a river.
Anyhow, the Tides won.
And we’ve got a walk-off in Norfolk. The celebration spills into right field. https://t.co/KzedBwosOi
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 27, 2015
It was then time for Launch-A-Ball, everyone’s favorite skill-based post-game tennis ball-tossing endeavor.
Wow, my notebook is a great source of information! I should look at it more often.
Kids then ran the bases as Ozzy Osbourne’s “Mama I’m Coming Home” played over the PA. Nice choice, guys.
This, entitled “Sandy Tide” (maybe she’s related to Rip Tide?) was designed by local artist Georgia Mason. It made its debut at the ballpark on April 18, 2015. It looks good at night.
I guess I had enough to write about after all.
To see all of posts from my June 27, 2015 visit to the Norfolk Tides (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.
The drive from Richmond to Norfolk seemed like it would be simple enough — an approximately 90-mile excursion largely spent traveling eastbound on Route 64. I departed in the early afternoon, thinking I would have time to check into my hotel before heading out to the Norfolk Tides’ home of Harbor Park.
Instead the drive turned into a grim endurance test, due to the fact that access to Norfolk is gained after traveling through the Hampton Roads — Bridge Tunnel (HRBT). With just two lanes going in each direction, the HRBT, built in the late ’50s, simply can’t accommodate the traffic it now receives. An estimated four o’clock arrival turned to 5 which turned to 6, at which point I skipped hotel check-in plans in favor of changing clothes in the stadium parking lot. (This is becoming routine. If you ever, for some reason, have the desire to see me shirtless then simply hang out in a media lot 60-90 minutes before game time.)
The photos I took outside of Harbor Park pain me to post, as they bring back memories regarding just how badly I had to pee upon arriving in Norfolk.
It’s tough to see in the above photo, but “The Tide” light rail has a stop directly in front of the ballpark. This is a far more amenable transportation option than driving through the HRBT.
Harbor Park was built in 1993, and at that time it was considered one of the crown jewels of Minor League Baseball. It is certainly one of the larger ballparks that I’ve ever been to, reminding me of Buffalo’s Coca-Cola Field on the outside and Syracuse’s NBT Bank Stadium within.
From the team website:
Harbor Park features almost 9,000 lower deck seats, 2,800 upper deck seats, and 400 seats in 24 luxury skyboxes leased to area corporations. The park also features a 225-seat restaurant known as “Hits at the Park” which offers a full view of the playing field. Overlooking left field is a 300-person tiered picnic area. Total capacity for Harbor Park is 11,856.
Shortly after arriving I rendezvoused with Tides director of media relations Ian Locke, who pointed me toward the nearest restroom. My night got so much better from there.
The gates had just opened, but fortunately Locke had just enough time to lead me on a brief tour around the stadium. For whatever reason, the first picture I took is of this “Boathouse BBQ” stand. You’d think a boathouse would serve seafood, but in this case you’d be wrong.
Perhaps a better sense of the concourse can be obtained via this photo featuring the sovereign entity that is Hot Dog Nation. (Perhaps its capital city is Frankfurt.)
Craft beer is blowing up across the country, figuratively in most cases. This trend has made its way into Harbor Park.
There are 10 beers on tap here, and among the offerings here is a Harbor Park exclusive: Walkoff Kolsch, created by the local O’Connor Brewing Company.
The team store, meanwhile, must’ve been named by a coalition of Hallmark-figurine collecting grandmothers.
A perhaps more nuanced dining experience can be found at “Hits at the Park,” a full-service restaurant open during every home game and year-round for events. The final post in this series will take place entirely within Hits at the Park, as two intrepid souls attempt the “Pork Challenge.”
As well as the bullpens.
The party deck also has views of the Elizabeth River, the proximity of which gives the stadium its “Harbor Park” name. The area beyond the ballpark has been designated an “environmentally protected wasteland,” which seems paradoxical to me. Perhaps my Dad the hydro-geologist can offer an explanation, in much the same way he once filled us in on karst topography in Bowling Green.
Meanwhile, back behind home plate, a crowd had gathered. Team-logo flip-flops — perhaps not the best apparel for exploring environmentally protected wasteland — were being given away. I couldn’t decide if I wanted a pair or not, and kept going back and forth on the matter.
Up here, as the press box gives way to suites, there is plenty of room in which to move. Once again, I had a flashback to being in the Buffalo Bisons’ home of Coca-Cola Field.
Pre-game mascot karaoke, Norfolk Tides https://t.co/tr4HX5zRfy
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 26, 2015
One also doesn’t often see a concession stand named in honor of a long-time executive. .
Rosie is 86-year-old Dave Rosenfield, who served as the Tides’ general manager from their 1963 inception through 2011. He still comes to the ballpark every day, in an “executive vice president role”, handling the team travel, calling three innings on the radio and, most impressively, devising the International League schedule by hand.
If you’re now thinking to yourself that Rosenfield sounds like a guy worth talking to, then you and I are on a similar wavelength. I went back upstairs and did just that.
My interview with Rosenfield, which specifically dealt with how he creates the IL schedule each season, can be found here. It’s a really good read, if I do say so myself (and, of course, I just did).
“I’ve been in love with baseball since 1938,” Rosenfield told me during the end of our conversation. “That’s one helluva long time.”
The helluva long time in baseball has resulted in “One Helluva Life,” Rosenfield’s memoir about his time in the game. Among many career highlights, he got name-dropped in The Simpsons.
I’d recommend reading Rosenfield’s memoir, and, less ambitiously, I’d also recommend reading Part Two of this Norfolk Tides blog series. It’ll appear shortly, and I hope you’ll reappear here to read it.
This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll be writing a short, 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, even love. Let’s get to it, lest it get to us!
June 25, 2015: Harbor Park, home of the Norfolk Tides (Triple-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles)
Opponent: Toledo Mud Hens, 7:05 p.m. start time
Harbor Park, from the outside: The traffic on the way to Norfolk (heading north from Richmond) was awful. I had to use the bathroom so badly at the time this picture was taken. I don’t remember taking it.
Harbor Park, from within:
Culinary Creation: The Pork Challenge (four pulled pork BBQ sliders, four 4 ounce Cajun smoked sausages, 12 pork wings, bacon and chili cheese tots). Two individuals tried to eat in an hour.
At Random: Tides executive vice president Dave Rosenfield, now in his 60th season of professional baseball.
Ballpark Character: Visiting entertainer Reggy the Purple Party Dude accidentally dropped a cake on this guy’s face.
Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day:
Your groundbreaking and subversive ballpark joke of the day, Norfolk Tides https://t.co/EbheEDR0XX
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 27, 2015
It’s time for another installment of “Why I Love,” in which Minor League fans explains what it is they love about their favorite team, and why. Today’s guest writer is Jared Wicks, a Syracuse resident who, over the past decade, has become an ardent supporter of his hometown Chiefs.
Why I Love the Syracuse Chiefs, by Jared Wicks
(All photo courtesy of Jared Wicks, unless otherwise noted)
Growing up in Syracuse, New York, I was taught that there were two teams to root for: Syracuse University basketball and Syracuse University football. If you insisted on watching baseball, then there were New York Yankees games on TV. I was also taught that my family’s income level would only permit attending a few sporting events each season, and always in the upper, upper deck.
In my youth I was familiar with the Chiefs. But, like many people in the area, I never thought much of them. That changed during the 2004 season, when I was 17. I received some free tickets from my sister, so my friends and I decided to head to the ballpark. Why not? The list of things to do in the area on a minimum wage budget were few and far between. That night, after the seventh inning, my friends and I sneaked down to the lower level seats and watched a man named Russ Adams play for Syracuse. He made an impression on us, largely because of the PA announcer’s introduction of “Ruuuussss Ad-dams.” Then, just a few days later, my friends and I were at a local sports bar watching the Toronto Blue Jays play against the New York Yankees. Up to plate came a man whom I had recently been just a few feet away from. Yes, Mr. Ruuuuussss Ad-dams.
Ever since that day I’ve been a die-hard fan. The Chiefs have, without seeming to even try, made me feel important while providing top-notch entertainment. I am certainly not rich, but when I’m at NBT Bank Stadium it’s hard not to feel that way. For a small price, you can sit just a few feet away from the baseball stars of yesterday, today and tomorrow. The Chiefs became my little secret, but it wasn’t long before all of my friends took to the idea of going to games. In the central New York area there aren’t too many entertainment options on a summer night, and it doesn’t get much better than being at the ballpark watching players competing within the highest level of the Minors. From my vantage point in section 105, row 1, I’ve gotten a chance to watch Jayson Werth, Vernon Wells, John Smoltz, Josh Beckett, Melky Cabrera, Bryce Harper and many, many more. I can hear, smell and see everything, and maybe even get to hear the players say “Thank you” after I scream out “Good luck.”
In all the time I’ve been going to games, one of the most important aspects has been getting a chance to meet and become friends with some great people. Unlike bigger sports franchises, Minor League Baseball provides an intimate atmosphere. I have gotten to know many season-ticket holders and fans on a first-name basis — or should I say on a nickname basis? One of my favorites is former season-ticket holder Michael Kendrick. (Or, as we liked to call him, “K Dad.”) Kendrick came to every game from 2005-13, and during this time he was responsible for hanging the strikeout “Ks” for the Chiefs pitchers. He also was known for his heckling of players, which he peppered with unique and obscure facts. He might mention a player’s interests outside of baseball, or call former Yankee prospect Shelly Duncan by his real name (it’s David).
And then there’s Dave, who sits in section 207, row 1 at every single game (and many road games, too). While quiet in nature, Dave boasts a vast knowledge of not just Syracuse Chiefs baseball but also politics, social issues and other areas of sports history. And of course I have to mention Lloyd “The Suspect” Broadnax. We call Broadnax “the suspect” because of the catchphrase he uses while heckling the opposing team: “You’re not a prospect, you’re a suspect!” Broadnax doesn’t stop his heckling for even one minute during the game. The writer of this blog, Ben Hill, learned that this past season. Hill was trying to interview him, and during the interview Broadnax would only answer his questions in-between pitches.
(That article can be found HERE).
As if I didn’t already have enough reasons to love the Chiefs, management at the ball yard changed hands prior to the 2014 season. Jason Smorol was named general manager, and everything that I always said I would love to do if I owned a Minor League team came to life during his first season. Smorol brought an unmatched energy to the ballpark, introducing great games, promotions, deals and themes that made you not want to miss a single game.
One night, during a rain delay, the Chiefs set up a free miniature golf course on the concourse. I mean, how cool is that?
One promotion that I really became a part of was Tattoo Night. This promo offered me a chance at two great things: One, to get a free Syracuse Chiefs’ logo tattoo, courtesy of the Chiefs and sponsor Carmelo’s Ink City. Two, that very tattoo now grants me free admission for life to all Chiefs games.
Regardless of the tattoo, the Chiefs are well worth the five dollar cost of admission. They have provided me with years of not just entertainment, but memories. Summer nights with friends, enjoying dollar hot dogs, talking about work and family, watching fireworks, laughing at monkeys dressed as cowboys riding dogs and even seeing things like a perfect game by Columbus Clipper Justin Germano and a four-homer game by the Chiefs’ Michael Aubrey. And last season I — and the whole city — was provided with a real chance to get excited. The Chiefs made it to the playoffs for the first time since 1998 and won their first division title since 1989.
Being a fan of the Chiefs has also given me an opportunity to visit other great cities, simply by following the team. Day trips to Rochester, Scranton and even Cooperstown to see them play have allowed me to explore those cities.
Shopping, zoos and landmarks lead to great day trips, which still cost under $100 for two people (including game tickets, gas and food). I even got a chance, in 2011, to watch the Chiefs play the Pawtucket Red Sox at Fenway Park in Boston. The seats we had would have cost $150 face value at a Red Sox game, but they only cost me $22 and that was for a doubleheader.
The cuisine at any ballpark is great, superior to any other sports option in Syracuse. The Chiefs sell Hoffman’s Hot Dogs, a central New York staple, a dog so good that Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim and Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach became investors. The Chiefs sell these hot dogs at the same price that it would cost you to make one at home and, on Thursdays, for even less than that. My love of all things Canada is satisfied with poutine, and there are also pulled pork sandwiches, salt potatoes (a New York specialty) and even a burger with a hot dog on top of it.
I have recently changed my goals in life, from working as a correction officer to returning to school. I now want to work in sports, preferably Minor League Baseball, and it’s all thanks to the Chiefs. I love this team because they love me right back. Unlike at Yankee Stadium or Lambeau Field, there is something to be said for watching a sports team whose staff knows your name, whose ushers know your seat and whose players smile when they hear you say something funny.
While other sports fans in New York may struggle to obtain custom license plates of their favorite teams — they’re all taken — GoChiefs was available for me as a way to show my pride. Summer is meant to be spent outdoors, and in central NY there is no cheaper or better option than the Syracuse Chiefs.
Thanks to Jared for taking the time to write this and, again: If YOU would like to submit a post for this series, then send an email to the address below. In the meantime, here’s my 2014 “On the Road” post detailing my Syracuse Chiefs experience. Jared even makes a cameo:
It’s time for another “Why I Love” guest post, in which a Minor League fan explains what it is they love about their favorite team, and why. Today’s guest writer is Ken Childs, a proud resident of Durham, North Carolina and, therefore, a proud fan of the Durham Bulls.
Why I Love the Durham Bulls, by Ken Childs
(All photos courtesy of Ken Childs)
I’ve been a resident of the beautiful city of Durham, North Carolina my entire adult life. The city has transformed over the last 14 years from what was almost an afterthought of a place into a bustling center for local restaurants, shopping and the arts. And in the middle of all that growth has been (and always will be) the Durham Bulls.
You’ve probably heard the name: There was a little indie movie made about the Bulls in the 1980s that did okay. The players who have come through here have shaped the Major League Baseball landscape for quite some time. The Bulls have been a consistent model of how teams should be run, and that has been shown in their continual trips to the Governors’ Cup playoffs. The list of “what’s not to like” about the Bulls, their home of Durham Bulls Athletic Park (DBAP) and their organization as a whole wouldn’t be long enough to fill out an index card, let alone this space, so we’ll go with “what there is to like” and ramble on for a while all about it!
Durham Bulls Athletic Park, which opened in 1995, is considered “older” now, at least when compared to the Minor League Baseball building boom that’s come about over the last decade or so. Nonetheless, you likely won’t find a nicer stadium anywhere. On any given summer night, on the corner of Blackwell and Jackie Robinson, you’ll find families, friends, couples and desperately single guys alike settled in the beautiful 10,000 seat stadium to take in not only great baseball, but great entertainment in general. And the building itself is what those new stadiums aim to be. You want your Minor League park to be a smaller version of a Major League stadium, downtown, near lots of restaurants and things to do both before and after the game? The DBAP has long been that, before most new stadiums were even a glimmer in an architect’s eye.
The DBAP has its own little quirks that make it like no other: There’s the bull (of Hit Bull, Win Steak fame), Jackie’s Landing (the nicest bar in Durham), the Blue Monster, the grass in the outfield entire families sit on to enjoy a game on a weekend evening and no other shortage of things that make it unique.
For a facility of its caliber, and a team of its caliber, the Durham Bulls are just about as budget-friendly as their mascot, Wool E Bull, is family-friendly (the “E” is short for “Education”…seriously).
The Bulls offer dollar hot dog nights, the best fireworks show anywhere (your town’s 4th of July show pales in comparison, I promise) and lots of great coupons and deals to get in on the cheap. And, even if you don’t, the most expensive ticket in the place is $15. Admit it: in the past, you’ve spent a lot more on a lot less.
So that’s what there is to love, in general, about the Durham Bulls. Now, why do I love them? For starters, they’re my hometown team. At heart I’m a Chicago White Sox fan, and their Triple-A team is down the road in a lesser city in North Carolina playing in the same International League division. But when they come to town, you can only root for one team, and that’s going to be the hometown one (even if the Bulls are an affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays).
At heart I’m a “people person” kind of guy, and the Bulls’ entire staff are the same way. From Jatovi (the Bulls on-field announcer and master of ceremonies) to general manager Mike Birling and everyone in between, there’s not a single person who won’t go out of their way to help a fan make his or her experience amazing. I’m not a needy guy, but anytime I’ve ever had any issue with anything, there was someone there in a Bulls shirt to lend a hand.
I’m also a sucker for food and cheeky events, and the Bulls have me covered that department as well. There’s Food Truck Rodeo night, where all of Durham’s best food trucks (and we have many) line up in right field. There’s craft beer night, ’80s night, ’90s night and the always popular Bark in the Park night. The concessions have everything from traditional ballpark food to taco stands to what is truly some of the best BBQ anywhere. So, whatever you’re in the mood for, DBAP most likely offers it. The on-field action is always great, but sometimes it’s that little extra fun in-between innings that makes the night special.
And, of course, there’s the baseball itself. The roster is generally made up of outstanding players who are also outstanding people. Hardly ever do you see a player skip a chance to sign an autograph, grab a picture with a fan or flip an extra ball to a kid in the first few rows. Great players like David Price, Wil Myers, Chris Archer, Craig Albernaz, Desmond Jennings and so many more have spent substantial time here in Durham, and this has led to the knowledge that, at any given ballgame, you’re seeing the future of baseball right before your eyes.
The Bulls are always in the hunt for the playoffs, and since moving to Durham in 2001 I’ve seen them win the International League championship four times. Baseball is always a little bit more fun when your team is winning, and that is rarely a problem here in Bull City.
In short, there are a lot of baseball teams out there, but none are as great as the Durham Bulls. Candlesticks always make a nice gift, but Bulls tickets might be just a little bit nicer.
Thanks to Ken for taking the time to write this and, again: If YOU would like to submit a post for this series, then send an email to the address below. In the meantime, here’s my 2011 “On the Road” post detailing my Durham Bulls experience.
(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!)
The first Minor League game that I ever went to was in 1989, when I saw the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons play at Lackawanna County Stadium. The Red Barons were a Philadelphia affiliate, and as a fanatical young Phillies fan, I loved seeing players in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre whom I might one day see play in Philadelphia. I also thought it was really cool that Lackawanna County Stadium was designed as a mini-Veterans Stadium, so that players who got the call-up to the Phillies would already have a good sense of the field layout as well as the unforgiving nature of the artificial playing surface.
I attended Red Barons games on a semi-regular basis over the next half decade or so, one of the primary perks of my grandparents having bought a house in nearby Gouldsboro, Pennsylvania. I remember cheering on the likes of Greg Legg, Steve Scarsone and Jeff Grotewold, and occasionally seeing rehabbing Major Leaguers such as Darren Daulton and, on one memorable day, Darryl Strawberry (suiting up as a member of the visiting Columbus Clippers). These are my first, and still some of my best, Minor League Baseball memories.
Some two decades later, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre still has a Triple-A team. This much has remained constant. But the franchise has switched affiliations (from the Phillies to the Yankees in 2007) and rebranded itself twice (becoming the Yankees in conjunction with the 2007 affiliation switch and then adopting the “RailRiders” name prior to the 2013 season). Furthermore, the team is playing in what is essentially a new ballpark. Renovations to Lackawanna County Field (now called PNC Field) were so extensive that the team was forced to spend the entirety of the 2012 season on the road. The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre baseball experience of my youth is no longer. The franchise is now ensconced with a whole new epoch and on Sunday, August 31, I finally got the chance to see it for myself.
* * *
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre was the 10th and final stop of my fourth and final road trip of the 2014 season. Finally, the end was in sight, and it seemed fitting that my travels would end with the franchise where my relationship with Minor League Baseball began. I arrived at the ballpark in the late morning, and was greeted not by a parking attendant but by a “Director of First Impressions.”
“Director of First Impressions” and other whimsical approaches to customer service can be attributed to team president Rob Crain, who came aboard in 2012 and oversaw the stadium renovation and rebranding efforts that occurred prior to the 2013 season. He had experience with that sort of thing, having previously been a part of similar endeavors in Omaha (during the 2010-11 offseason, the Omaha Royals moved to a new ballpark and named themselves the “Storm Chasers”).
It was approximately two hours until the start of the game, meaning that I had the parking lot practically to myself.
I wasn’t the first one to arrive, however. These fans were already in line, presumably so they could obtain one of the team-logo toothbrush holders that were to be given away.
Which, by the way, looked like this. (I’m not sure where the toothbrush is supposed to go, but whatever. I’m sure those in the know will bristle at my ignorance.)
I met Rob Crain outside of the ballpark, and he gave me a tour of the facility. Let’s begin.
* * *
This mural depicting Northeastern Pennsylvania’s history and culture, was painted by local artist Evan Hughes. (His was the winning design in a contest staged by the RailRiders prior to this season.) The mural runs alongside the steps that lead to PNC Field’s Mohegan Sun Club, a private second-level club and suite area.
Outside the entrance to the Mohegan Sun Club, I happened upon this curious sight.
The RailRiders were set to play the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, and in response the team was roasting a pig and selling the resulting “IronPig Sandwich” for $7.50.
The RailRiders had already lost the “IronRail” head-to-head season series with Lehigh Valley, and both teams had long been eliminated from playoff contention, but there was still something to play for: the battle to not finish in last place!
The playing field is one of the few things at PNC Field that is not new. The days of this ballpark bearing a distinct Veterans Stadium resemblance are long, long gone.
For the record, Rob was very enthusiastic about the drink rail that wraps around the entire concourse. I think he used the term “Trex-style decking,” and I was like “How can T-Rex even hold a drink when he’s got those tiny baby arms?”
One of the coolest things about this “new” ballpark is the extent to which the natural landscape is incorporated into the outfield concourse. This is the Railhouse Bar.
Booze with a view.
And this picnic area is called “Oak Grove.” The trees are lit up at night, but, alas, I was there during the day.
“I’m not sure if the trees are oak, but that’s what we call them,” said Rob. “I’m no arborist.”
Stay off of the rocks, please.
Actually, on second thought: have a seat:
$2 buys three shots on the Porcupine Putt Putt.
“If you’re wondering, it goes to the left,” said Rob.
“We wanted the biggest, tallest, most intense visual we could find,” said Rob, explaining the thought process behind this gargantuan Fun Zone offering.
The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons/Yankees/RailRiders have retired two numbers over the course of franchise history. Greg Legg, No. 14, was not honored simply on the strength of his name, but because he played for the Red Barons from 1989-94. All told, Legg played 11 seasons in Triple-A, all within the Phillies organization, and he has since spent the last two decades coaching and managing within the Phillies system. Dave Miley, No. 11, has managed the club since 2007. He is the only manager Scranton/Wilkes-Barre has had during its time as a Yankees affiliate.
On the third-base side of the concourse, one finds this Midway-style attraction.
Ribbet Riders in action, featuring president Rob.
I’ve always been a big fan of the Frogs, but it was time to move on. The Laurel Line Grill is named after the Laurel Line trolley route. Did you know that Scranton is the birthplace of the electric street car? And that’s why the team is called the “RailRiders” in the first place? Well, now you do.
I’m not sure that I had ever seen this before: add peanuts for $3.00.
The Birthday Burrow is where all the cool Scranton kids have their parties.
During our lap of the concourse, Rob was in full taking-care-of-business mode. In addition to augmenting my tour with various ballpark facts, I witnessed him pick up stray pieces of litter, radio a co-worker about a broken armrest in section 11 and constantly monitor the weather via an app on his cell phone. A storm front was in the vicinity of the ballpark, and it was an open question at whether it would wreak havoc or steer clear.
In the meantime, Rob and I went upstairs in order to check out the aforementioned Mohegan Sun Club.
The four-top tables placed outside are in the shape of blackjack tables.
The elevated view from the second level makes it easier to appreciate the artistry of the groundskeeper.
The suite hallways are decorated with photos of Yankee greats.
In the suites, one finds induction heaters mounted inside harvest tables. Other teams are gonna have to step up their food-heating game!
There are 18 suites overall, identified by glowing signage modeled after that which can be found at Yankee Stadium.
Back on the concourse, pitcher Nick Rumbelow and second baseman Robert Refsnyder (separated at birth?) were in the midst of a 20-minute pregame autograph session. Refsnyder didn’t know it then, but weeks later he would win a MiLBY for Top Home Run Video.
The RailRiders’ press box and control room are located on the concourse level. Twenty-one games are broadcast on local television each season, with most of the equipment needed for such an endeavor found here.
With the game about to begin, I bid adieu to President Crain (for the time being) and wandered back to the outfield concourse. One of the coolest features of this area is the primo view it affords of the home and visiting bullpens. Here, IronPigs pitcher Sean O’Sullivan gets in some final tosses before taking the mound.
The RailRiders’ relievers struck a casual pose.
But the IronPigs’ bullpen denizens were even more relaxed. Dude on the left is all, “Man, it’s the penultimate day of the season. I’m not even gonna put on pants.”
* * *
With the game under way, I recommenced wandering, and, soon enough, my wanderings led me to this trio.
My conversation with the above trio led to an MiLB.com article, excerpted below of context:
Junichi “Jay” Inoue, Yu “Buffalo” Matsumoto and Tetsuhiro “Freddy” Usui were visiting the RailRiders from Sendai, Japan, as part of a tour of American sporting venues. All three men work in the “enterprise department” of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles — a Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) team commonly referred to simply as “Rakuten” — and they were in America on business.
Inoue, Matsumoto and Usui wanted to learn about how professional sports teams operate in the United States. The hope was that, after careful observation, they could apply some of these American ideas to the Rakuten baseball experience.
This trio of international travelers was accompanied to PNC Field by Morris Morioka, a native of Japan who has just completed his second season as the Lehigh Valley IronPigs manager of marketing and promotions. Two years ago, Morioka and IronPigs promotions director Lindsey Knupp traveled to Japan to share ideas at sports promotional seminars in Tokyo and Sendai. While in the latter city, they met Usui, who kept in touch with Morioka and solicited his help in planning a trip to the United States.
Inoue, Matsumoto and Usui had an interesting array of paraphernalia, including this Masahiro Tanaka golden bobblehead.
This concessions brochure was fascinating.
And, yes, your eyes do not deceive you. In the bottom right hand corner, Andruw Jones is eating Kentucky Fried Chicken.
And here’s a close-up of Andruw Jones enjoying KFC in Rakuten Eagles concessions menu. pic.twitter.com/gwKVBijEj2
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) September 22, 2014
* * *
After parting ways with my new Japanese friends, I returned to the pig carving station to see how things were going. A significant chunk of this unfortunate fellow was now missing.
I abstained from the pig, but, seeking sustenance, did procure an order of nachos. These were obtained from a concession kiosk sporting the incredibly creative name of “Nachos.” They were delicious.
Nachos consumed, I reconvened with President Rob to continue my tour. As we proceeded into the guts of the facility, I offhandedly mentioned that the game was “flying along.” Without missing a beat and without even turning around, Rob raised a finger in the air and said “Don’t jinx nothing.” Clearly, I had broken a baseball taboo: never comment on how quickly a game is proceeding. This will anger the baseball gods, who will respond with a rain delay and/or extra innings.
Anyhow, this is the visitors’ locker room. It is perfectly adequate.
The refrigerator in the nearby kitchen area was covered with signatures, sayings and off-color baseball poetry. One man who added his name to the mix this season was peripheral Duck Dynasty character Mountain Man.
Mountain Man was not just here this season, he was everywhere.
While the visiting clubhouse is adequate, the home clubhouse is spectacular. Rob mentioned that such deluxe accommodations aid the Yankees in their efforts to sign six-year Minor League free agents and fringe MLB veterans who might end up spending some or all of the season at Triple-A.
The weight room:
The former auxiliary clubhouse is now used as the groundskeeper’s area. Be jealous, other Minor League groundskeepers.
When we emerged back on the concourse, T-shirts were being launched. Note that image on the videoboard, as that’s one impressive-looking gun.
Later, a Honda Fit was given away to a fan who had correctly guessed the number of baseballs filling the trunk of said vehicle.
Those who did not win a Fit could still obtain a fitted cap at the team store. There were some interesting specimens therein.
Meanwhile, on the field, the game continued to fly right along. The RailRiders held a 1-0 lead through seven innings, with Tyler Henson leading off for the IronPigs in the top of the eighth.
Henson was greeted with Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” as he strode to the plate, and he promptly deposited a fat-bottomed offering from Rumbelow over the center-field fence to tie the game, 1-1. In the bottom of the eighth, Lehigh Valley’s Hector Neris was summoned from the bullpen. I found it odd that a Philadelphia-affiliated pitcher was greeted with the Rocky theme while pitching on the road.
Making an entrance… https://t.co/OP26xEabxq
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 31, 2014
But that’s Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for ya. It’s a land of divided loyalties.
Rob’s efforts notwithstanding, apparently I had jinxed this ballgame’s ability to conclude at a rapid pace. For in the bottom of the eighth inning, the rains came.
A tarp snafu resulted in the right side of the infield getting completely waterlogged.
I was certain that the game would be called immediately, but this was not the case. A protracted rain delay then followed, indefinitely extending my season-ending road trip. I entertained myself by watching “Baseball’s Best Blunders” on the videoboard until, finally, mercifully, the following message was broadcast to the fans.
Finally, my 2014 ballpark travels were complete. Just before exiting PNC Field, I thrilled to one last instance of creative Minor League Baseball sponsorship.
But as much as I was looking forward to finally returning home, I nonetheless was overtaken by a pervasive melancholy upon leaving the ballpark. In 2014, I would be “On the Road” no longer. Seeking to postpone my inevitable offseason existential crisis for as long as possible, I shuffled about at a snail’s pace and snapped photos of anything that even seemed remotely interesting.
Hey, Gene Schall! I remember seeing him play back in 1993.
Finally, at approximately 5:30 p.m., I officially closed the book on this season’s travels.
And that’s all she wrote. See you at a MiLB ballpark in 2015, hopefully. https://t.co/h9jcwBuj2i
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 31, 2014
Thanks to all the teams that hosted me, the fans I met and, most importantly, everyone who has taken the time to read this season’s crop of MiLB.com articles and blog posts. I really appreciate it. Get in touch anytime, and stay tuned later in the month for the start of offseason content as well as odds and sods left over from the road. If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.