Results tagged ‘ International League ’
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.
(Interested in perusing all of my 2014 “On the Road” content? Click HERE to visit a continually updated “On the Road” landing page. Bookmark it, and read ‘em all!)
On Tuesday, Aug. 27, I woke up in Buffalo and, after a concentrated burst of exploration in that fine city, hit the road and drove 150 miles on I-90 east to Syracuse. While flipping through the radio dial on the way there, it seemed like all the disc jockey chatter was focused on the New York State Fair. People in this region of New York seem to LOVE the State Fair, an annual 12-day, late-summer extravaganza that takes place in a town just west of Syracuse proper. During the drive to Syracuse, I thrilled to a radio host’s impassioned rant against a new State Fair policy banning goldfish as one of the Midway game prizes, and, later, I was less than thrilled to hear that people seemed to enjoy seeing Train and the Wallflowers perform the night before.
But the New York State Fair — featuring performances by Journey and Cheap Trick! — wasn’t the only game in town on Aug. 27. For it was on that evening that I attended a ballgame at NBT Bank Stadium, home of the Syracuse Chiefs. Ignoring the adjacent “Park and Ride” State Fair parking lot, I deposited my vehicle within a vast expanse of asphalt and proceeded toward this, the main entrance.
2014 was a very interesting season for the Chiefs, both on and off the field. Last fall, after a string of money-losing seasons and increasing dissatisfaction regarding the direction of the community-owned franchise, John Simone was replaced as general manager by Jason Smorol. In November I wrote an article about this chain of events, excerpted here:
In 2013, the Chiefs drew only 345,000 fans to NBT Ballpark, the lowest total since the stadium opened in 1997. Upon the conclusion of this dispiriting campaign, the news only got worse as a financial report released by the team’s board of directors revealed that the franchise had already lost more than $500,000 in 2013. This was, by far, the most that the International League franchise had ever lost in a single year.
Drastic times call for drastic measures. And at the end of September, the board relieved general manager John Simone of his duties. Simone had served in that role since 1996, taking over for his father, legendary executive Tex Simone, who had been at the helm since 1970. The 2014 season will mark the first time since the 1960s that a Simone hasn’t been in charge of the Chiefs, and stepping into that void will be none other than Smorol. Can he turn this ailing franchise around?
2014 not only marked Smorol’s first season at the helm, it also included the Chiefs’ first trip to the postseason since 1998 and their first division title since 1989. (On the day I was in attendance, they were on the verge of clinching the North Division title, a feat accomplished three days later.)
After introducing myself to Mr. Smorol, I proceeded to the press box and took in the view on what was an overcast but generally pleasant evening at 17-year-old NBT Bank Stadium.
The concourse was sparkling.
Walking further down the right-field line, one finds the “Hank Sauer Room of Legends.” Sauer played four seasons as a member of the Chiefs (1942-43 and 1946-47, with two years of military service in-between), hitting 50 home runs in 1947 at the age of 30. This solidified him once and for all as a bona fide power hitter, and he went on to play in the Majors from 1948-1959 (winning an MVP Award as a member of the Chicago Cubs in 1952).
Smorol later told me that the team has “grand visions” for the Room of Legends, as the long-term plan is for it to house the Chiefs’ Hall of Fame.
Outside of the Room of Legends, one finds this tribute to Syracuse’s “Mr. Baseball” Tex Simone. Prior to his retirement last year, Tex had been involved with the Chiefs, in one capacity or another, since the franchise’s inaugural season in 1961. (Other iterations of the Chiefs existed, in one form or another, from 1934-1957).
This bust had originally been located at the main entrance to the stadium, and its relocation to the Room of Legends did not sit well with the Simone family. This article, from Syracuse.com, details the ensuing controversy and provides a good glimpse at the turmoil that gripped the franchise prior to this season of transition.
Moving on to happier matters: 1911 is a local spirits and hard cider company whose products are readily available at this “Flavors of Syracuse” concession stand. (On an unrelated note, those two guys must have been so embarrassed when they realized that they wore the same outfit to the ballpark.)
All of the pregame photos shared thus far show few fans in the ballpark. But a significant number of early-arriving fans were indeed present, and their mission was to procure an autograph from special ballpark guest Bucky “Expletive Deleted” Dent. The line snaked through the concourse, as legendary Syracuse vendor Jimmy Durkin roamed up and down the line selling pens.
“Hey!” yelled Durkin. “Get your own pen right here! They’re any color you want! They’re only a dollar! Hey!”
“What we found out is that Syracuse doesn’t have a very large Latino population,” Smorol later told me. “This might be our last Latino Night.”
Speaking of Smorol, here he is on the scoreboard making a nightly pregame speech that details all of the activity that’s about to take place at the ballpark. I had seen Rochester Red Wings general manager Dan Mason making a similar speech several days before, and I think it’s a great idea. It sends the message that the general manager is open and personable, ready and willing to interact with the fans and listen to their suggestions and questions, and this is an especially important thing for someone in Smorol’s position to do. He’s the proverbial “new guy in town,” after all, and a big part of his job this year was to turn around the public perception that the Chiefs are an out-of-touch organization.
Oh, and for those keeping score at home: The videoboard seen above was installed prior to the 2012 season, boasting dimensions of 30 by 55 feet.
Meanwhile, my wandering continued. This is the view from down the right-field line:
During these solitary travels, I came across a piece of signage left over from the “Sky Chiefs” era. The team went by this moniker from 1997-2006, reverting back to the original “Chiefs” name in 2007. At that point the team adopted a train-themed identity that “honors the mighty railroads that shipped goods manufactured in Syracuse all over America.”
The Rochester Red Wings were that evening’s opponent. In the team’s bullpen, I noticed one-time Moniker Madness semifinalist Mark Hamburger receiving a vigorous back rub from one of his relief corps compatriots.
Hamburger then returned the favor. Hey, you scratch my back…
The game was now under way, and the Latino Night videoboard graphics were in full effect. (I’m not exactly sure why Steven Souza is listed as having a .000 batting average, as he played in 96 games for the the Chiefs this season. He and several other core Syracuse players were called up to the Nationals at the conclusion of the regular season, and this move angered Chiefs fans who felt that the team should have remained intact for the playoffs.)
The Chiefs are one of a few teams to feature an elderly mascot among their costumed character repertoire. Here’s Pops, up close and personal.
Soon thereafter, I caught a less up-close but still quite personal view of Scooch. Introspective mascot alert!
I didn’t just meet with mascots during these early-game peregrinations. I also spent a significant chunk of time with Brian Goswell and his son, Owen. They were my designated eaters for the evening (you know, the individuals recruited to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits).
Brian, his wife, Joanne, and Owen had driven all the way from Kingston, Ontario, in order to obtain designated-eating glory (although Joanne, probably wisely, had chosen to abstain). Brian, who works for the city of Kingston, serves as the president of the baseball league in which Owen, 12, competes. Owen is a catcher, and Brian proudly told me that he’s “got the art of framing a pitch down pat.” Owen, whose favorite player is Josh Thole, told me that I bore a striking resemblance to Thole’s battery mate R.A. Dickey. Does he have a case here?
Eponymous Biz Blog author:
Brian, a dedicated reader of this blog for several years, had long had designated-eating aspirations. He contacted me shortly after my 2014 trip itineraries were posted and promptly secured this honor, all the while unaware that his passport had expired. Thanks to his deft handling of the required bureaucratic maneuvers, a new one arrived in the mail the day before and his plans proceeded apace.
Oh, the irony: The Goswells crossed the border into the United States so that they could eat some poutine. Poutine, of course, is a Canadian specialty consisting of french fries covered with gravy and cheese curds. This might be blasphemous to those living north of the border, but the Chiefs’ iteration of this dish replaced the cheese curds with shredded mozzarella.
Owen, an avowed poutine fan, says that his favorite poutine purveyors are New York Fries and Smoke’s Poutinerie. Of the Chiefs’ offering, he remarked that it’s “Awesome, better than some in Canada. I like the different cheese — mozzarella instead of curds.”
“When cheese, gravy and fries are added together, you can’t lose,” added Brian.
Next up was a fried clam sandwich, served with cole slaw and french fries.
Designated eaters check in, Syracuse Chiefs They drove in from Kingston, Ontario https://t.co/wkuHMiJ8Rt
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 28, 2014
“I’m not big on seafood, but I thought that this was good,” said Brian. “My wife was right: ‘Try it — you might like it.'”
“But she doesn’t need to hear about this,” replied Owen.
Next up was chicken wings with “Bang Bang” sauce, which Smorol raved about. (“It’s good on everything!” he enthused at one point. “Bang bang everything!”)
My photo of the wings is abysmal.
I’m not too familiar with the history and origin of Bang Bang sauce, but it appears to be a spicy-sweet mayo-based condiment.
“Jason was right: ‘Bang Bang everything,'” said Brian. “These are really good.”
“I agree,” said Owen.
“It’s not much that you and I agree on,” said Brian. “You’re coming around.”
“Don’t tell Mom this, either,” said Owen. “Then she’ll want us to get along all of the time.”
Meanwhile, Smorol couldn’t help but help himself to some chicken wings. What, the GM worry?
The upstate New York specialty that are salt potatoes made an appearance as well. I have no other photos or quotes involving these potatoes, but here they are.
Finally, there were some hot dogs. Hofmann’s hot dogs, to be exact, a local company that spells its name in counterintuitive “one F, two N’s” fashion.
“It was huuuge,” concluded Owen.
And that, as they say, was that.
“I have now fulfilled one of my lifelong dreams,” said Brian. “Being your designated eater.”
Brian had one final request before disappearing into the sunset. Would I please do a Syracuse Chiefs #Cupdate?
But of course. This one’s for you, collectible cup aficionados, courtesy of Brian Goswell.
After parting ways with the Goswells, I walked over to the concourse area behind home plate and introduced myself to legendary vendor Jimmy Durkin. I ended up conducting a brief interview with Jimmy, which will form the basis of an upcoming MiLB.com piece (I’m telling ya, this season’s road trip content might never end).
Lest we forget, there was a game going on.
Lloyd is a Chiefs superfan known for his profound heckling skills, and his backstory is an interesting one (read all about it in my “Suspect” MiLB.com piece). Here he is in action.
Lloyd “the suspect” Broadnax. Syracuse Chiefs heckling superstar https://t.co/NgimRgTExZ
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 28, 2014
The Chiefs held a “Tattoo Night” promo earlier in the season, in which fans got a team-logo tattoo in exchange for season tickets. Lloyd, not surprisingly, was one of the fans who took part.
Jared Wicks, a die-hard Chiefs fan who often sits in the same section as Lloyd, got a tattoo as well.
Lloyd, Jared, Ziv and everyone else had plenty to cheer about, as the Chiefs plated a pair in both the seventh and eighth frames en route to a 4-3 win. It was a good — “neigh” — great victory for the Chiefs. The fans cheered themselves “horse.”
I took that picture on my way out of the ballpark, but that was only so I could go back into the ballpark. My next stop was the Chiefs’ ground-floor front-office area, which features several full-to-bursting display cases of Chiefs memorabilia.
I ended up spending quite a bit of time in the front office, chatting with team staffers who were decompressing after (yet another) long day. I also spoke with 98-year-old Don Waful, a former Chiefs team president who is still a regular presence at the ballpark. Here, Waful points to his plaque on the Chiefs Wall of Fame.
Waful, a WWII veteran, spent more than two years in a German POW camp located in Poland. One of the American prisoners alongside him was Fred Johnson, the father of former Nationals manager Davey Johnson. Last February, Johnson attended the Chiefs’ annual Hot Stove Dinner specifically so that he could talk to Waful about his war memories. From a Syracuse.com article on the encounter:
Fred Johnson was a tank commander who slept in the same section of an Oflag64 barracks as Waful and six other men. But Davey Johnson recalls that his father – quiet and reserved – rarely spoke about what he endured as a POW.
Johnson looked forward to what he might learn from Waful, who told him about the intense cold at the camp, during winters in Poland. Waful told him about the awful nature of the food. But he also remembered the extraordinary camaraderie that bound together all the prisoners during the harsh days of the war.
It’s hard to top a story like that, so I won’t even try. Good night from NBT Bank Ballpark, an enjoyable place to take in a ballgame and a fine entertainment alternative to the New York State Fair.
(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!)
When the Buffalo Bisons’ home of Pilot Field opened in 1988, it was amid of wave of intense baseball optimism in the region. The facility was built not just with the Triple-A Bisons in mind, but as the potential home for a re-locating or expansion Major League team. If this dream indeed became reality, then the stadium’s capacity would be more than doubled via the addition of more than 20,000 mezzanine seats.
Major League Baseball never came to Buffalo, of course, but the Bisons’ stadium (now known as Coca-Cola Field, after a series of name changes) remains a Minor League ballpark with a big league feel.
And even though the city’s big league dreams were never realized,
Pilot Park North AmeriCare Park Dunn Tire Park Coca-Cola Field was nonetheless a harbinger of things to come. It was the first stadium designed by HOK Sports, now known as Populous, the architectural firm that four years later designed Camden Yards in Baltimore. Its combination of retro aesthetic and modern amenities was extremely influential, helping set the stage for the ballpark revolution that was soon to come. (In which intimate, quirk-laden, baseball-specific environments — with real grass! — replaced cavernous multi-use facilities.)
It was an accident, but I love the father-son moment captured in the photo below. The kid’s decked out in a Bisons cap, shirt, and foam claws, and he and Dad are moving toward the entrance with enthusiasm and energy. I bet they had a great night.
This statue of former Buffalo mayor Jimmy Griffin was unveiled in 2012. From a press release issued by the team:
Griffin – who passed away in 2008 – did all he could to further the presence of baseball in the city of Buffalo, going to great lengths in support of the city’s push for a major league team – as well as in the development of Coca-Cola Field….[L]ightly crouched, glove outstretched, Griffin stands ready to deliver his first pitch – just as he did before the ballpark’s first-ever game on April 14, 1988. Considering Griffin’s omniscient presence in the area baseball scene, the statue is sure to serve as a reminder of one man’s dedication and love for a city, and a team.
The Bisons’ name dates all the way back to 1879, as from that season through 1885 a team by that name played in the National League. (Everyone involved with this incarnation of the franchise is dead. I looked it up.) The current iteration of the Bisons arrived in 1979 as a member of the Double-A Eastern League, transitioning to the Triple-A American Association in 1985 and then, when that circuit dissolved, becoming members of the International League in 1998. Buffalo-based Rich Products Corporation bought the team in 1983, and it remains under the Rich family’s ownership. (Rich Baseball Operations is under the Rich Entertainment Group umbrella. The Rich family also owns the Northwest Arkansas Naturals as well as the new Morgantown, West Virginia, New York-Penn League club formerly known as the Jamestown Jammers. Rich Entertainment Group is also involved in the theater scene, such as the current effort to turn Bull Durham into a Broadway musical.)
Upon gaining entry to the stadium, I proceeded to the concourse and snapped the following photos. It was August 26, the last home game of the regular season, and a pre-game awards ceremony was set to take place shortly as part of the evening’s Fan Appreciation Night festivities.
I didn’t quite know what to do with myself at this early juncture in the evening, so I texted my designated eater (you know, the individual recruited to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). “Hey, designated eater, are you ready to eat?” I queried. “Yes, obscure blogger, I am,” he replied. (Or something to that effect.)
This is Phil Walck, designated eater.
Phil used to be a Bisons season ticket holder, but these days he attends five or six games per season. He lives in Niagara Falls and works for an unnamed “major freight forwarder.” (Major freight forwarding is a big business in this part of the country, due to the large amount of goods crossing the border between the United States and Canada.) Phil has been reading this blog for the last several years, and, when I posted my trip itineraries for the 2014 season, he jumped at the opportunity to become a designated eater.
“I love ballpark food, especially the weird stuff,” said Phil. “The only time I have hot dogs is when they’re a dollar.”
The Bisons aren’t especially “weird” when it comes to concessions, but public relations director Brad Bisbing later told me that the team has recently made a concerted effort to go local. Hence, you’ll find Wardzynski’s sausage, Charlie the Butcher’s “Beef on Weck” and Sahlen’s hot dogs. (I’m sure there are non-meat related examples, but that’s all I’ve got written down).
“Brad Bisbing, Buffalo Bisons” is a delightfully alliterative front office moniker. In search of further examples of splendid alliteration, Phil and I visited a cramped, crowded concourse concession area and procured a bologna sandwich. These are a relatively rare Minor League concession item, though I can recall that they are also sold at ballparks in Jackson (Tennessee), Danville (Virginia) and Louisville (Kentucky).
Looking for an escape from the the cramped crowded concourse, Phil and I headed up the stairs and immediately found plenty of room here (I later found out that this is primarily used as a vendor stocking area, and that appears to be what is happening there in the background).
The pre-game awards ceremony was now taking place on the field, but I was more concerned with Phil’s opinion of a bologna sandwich.
“This bologna is really good,” said Phil. “It’s thick — I don’t know the measurements — but they cut it thick. The bologna’s from a local deli, and the roll is from a local bakery. It’s a really good roll.”
Phil, who occasionally fries up bologna in the privacy of his own home after a long day of freight forwarding, said that “you gotta pop the middle, right in the middle. That does the trick.” Otherwise the center of the bologna will rise up like a hot air balloon and, perhaps, float away to parts unknown.
Since Phil seemed like a pretty knowledgeable guy when it came to food, I asked him the question that every Buffalonian has an answer to: Who has the best wings? He said that “it’s a very contentious issue” but it’s “gotta be Duff’s, and then Anchor Bar.”
But Buffalo is known for more than just wings. Buffalo is also known for its “Beef on Weck,” which is simply roast beef au jus on a kummelweck roll. Charlie the Butcher, a particularly well-known Buffalo-based purveyor of beef on weck, is available on the concourse.
The Bisons became a Blue Jays affiliate prior to to the 2013 season, and as a result there has been a considerable uptick in the number of Canadian fans visiting Coca-Cola Field. The Bisons aggressively market to fans north of the border (watch out for a future MiLB.com story on that), and Canadian money is accepted throughout the ballpark. Just keep yourselves in check, big spenders.
While waiting in line for our beef on weck, I caught a glimpse of legendary Buffalo beer vendor “Conehead.” My attempt to document Conehead in his natural habitat yielded woeful results, and he soon disappeared. Would I get another chance to view the Conehead, or had I missed my opportunity?
That question would have to wait, because, once again, it was my job to watch a man eat a sandwich. In this line of work, I have watched many men eat many sandwiches.
Designated eater checks in Buffalo Bisons https://t.co/GqlGHPiJLr
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 26, 2014
Outside of noting that there was “salt in the caraway seeds,” Phil had little to say about this sandwich other than that “it’s really good, just roast beef and jus.” I guess that’s all you need to know.
But you should also know that salt potatoes, yet another New York state specialty, are also available from Charlie the Butcher. They are gluten-free, of course, so I can report from first-hand experience that these potatoes were soft, buttery, well-seasoned and, in a word, delectable. I was pleasantly surprised that such a simple item had so much flavor.
Thank you, Phil Walck, for treating your designated eating duties with the reverence and dedication that the position deserves. I let him eat the remainder of his beef and weck and salt potato meal in peace, as I had places to go and people to see. He later tweeted this picture, for your edification and enjoyment.
— Phil Walck (@philwalck) August 26, 2014
“There is lots of good food here, it’s simple stuff,” said Phil. “There’s no bacon-wrapped anything, but it’s all good.”
While in the press box I spoke with none other than alliteration king Brad Bisbing of the Buffalo Bisons. He pointed out that, in addition to my random wandering, I might want to pay a little attention to the ballgame that was taking place. The Bisons and visiting Pawtucket Red Sox were in a tight pennant race and both teams had premier pitching prospects on the mound. (Daniel Norris for the Bisons and Henry Owens for the Paw Sox.) The Bisons had drawn more than 11,000 fans to the ballpark in each of the last five games, but Bisbing was predicting a crowd of 16 or 17,000 for this, the Fan Appreciation home finale.
The Bisons would then end the season with a six-game road trip, because they always end the season with a road trip. This is because the Buffalo Wing Festival takes place at Coca-Cola Field each Labor Day weekend, in which some 40,000 people combine to eat 20 tons of wings.
This festival has a fairly ridiculous origin story, which I fell compelled to share with you, the loyal, patient and marginally good-looking Ben’s Biz Blog reader:
The idea for the festival came from a movie called Osmosis Jones. Bill Murray starred as a compulsive eater with a goal of attending the Super Bowl of junk food, The National Buffalo Wing Festival. Ironically, there wasn’t one. That is when native Buffalonian Drew Cerza, now affectionately known as the Wing King, decided to make it happen back in 2002. This is a case of Real Life knocking off Hollywood!
After speaking with Bisbing, I was introduced to Bisons director of marketing and entertainment Matt LaSota. The two of us wandered down labyrinthian corridors for a spell, peering into various doors along the way.
Behind another door was a control room, housing the equipment needed to run what, at one time, was the largest videoboard in Minor League Baseball. (The Memphis Redbirds usurped this honor in 2012, one year after the Bisons’ board was installed.)
80 feet by 33 feet, that’s what this is. (And as you can see, the evening’s vaunted pitching prospects both struggled in the early going. A pitchers’ duel this was not.) The Bisons have upgraded their sound system in recent years as well, transition from three massive speakers to 120 smaller ones (three in the scoreboard and 117 distributed throughout the park). La Sota told me that, prior to this change, the team sometimes received noise complaints from downtown law offices during weekday afternoon games. The sound was so massive, and there was little to absorb it.
At this juncture in the evening, the ballpark had filled in considerably and the Bisons were on the verge of announcing a sellout. The attendance for the evening was a formidable 18,025, by far the largest Minor League crowd that I had ever been a part of.
Just prior to my visit, the Bisons announced that 3,700 seats in the lower seating bowl would be replaced, the first phase of a multi-year stadium renovation project. The seats at Coca-Cola Field are from 1988, and, as the team’s press release notes, they are six years past their life expectancy and replacement parts are not readily available. Bisbing told me that many of the improvements to the stadium will be “unfortunately, things that the fans don’t see.” This includes converting the concession areas from electric to gas, installing new boilers and replacing light fixtures. Sexy stuff, but necessary as Coca-Cola Field, somewhat improbably, is now the second-oldest ballpark in the International League. (Pawtucket’s McCoy Stadium was built in 1945 but has since been extensively renovated.)
Speaking of sexy stuff, the hard-hat wearing beer vendor was toting around a mobile draft beer unit. These things are big in Japan.
More discerning beer drinkers might want to visit the concourse’s “Craft on Draft” beer corner, which features several selections from the local Hamburg Brewery Company (note that one beer is poured via tap with a yellow foul pole handle).
When Coca-Cola Field opened in 1988, obtaining Bisons season tickets was a prerequisite for obtaining season tickets to whatever MLB team might one day play there. Crowds in the early days of the ballpark were colossal by Minor League standards, as the Bisons drew over one million fans on a regular basis. (They drew 535,275 over 66 openings in 2014, for a per-game average of 8,110.) As the above picture shows, the Bisons are still capable of packing ’em in during beautiful summer evenings. In April, when the weather is often absymal? Not so much.
Anyhow, at this juncture of the evening Mr. Mike Zagurski was on the mound. Let’s hear it for Mike Zagurski, who has pitched for seven Triple-A teams over the last five seasons (in addition to big league stints with the Phillies, Diamondbacks, Yankees and Pirates).
Shortly thereafter I witnessed the nightly race between Wing, Cheese and Celery. Celery had not won a race all year and was thus a crowd favorite, but he (or she) was thwarted by a Bon Jovi-blasting carrot (Jon Bon Jovi is a villain in Buffalo, due to his now-thwarted efforts to re-locate the Bills to Toronto).
Mascot racing complete, and in search of more views, I accompanied an intern — whose name escapes me, I apologize! — on a journey into the bowels of the ballpark. (Update! The intern’s name was Daniel Kuligowski.)
Buster’s cousin goes by the name of Chip, making him the only mascot whose name is a poop reference.
Soon I was back among the hoi polloi. This what a sellout crowd at America’s largest Minor League Baseball stadium looks like. It’s an amazing thing.
unnamed intern Kuligowski then climbed a rickety ladder, one that led to a television camera platform. (I really hope that replacing this ladder is part of the team’s ongoing renovation efforts). Again, I present you with another view. Click to enlarge.
While here, I witnessed a full-throated rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” It would have brought a tear to my eye, if I had not had my tear ducts removed as part of an ill-fated effort to never experience emotion again.
Unfortunately, by the time I made it to the team’s Hall of Fame Room it had been shuttered for the evening. But let it be known that the Bisons have retired three numbers over the course of their history. Ollie Carnegie was the International League’s all-time home run leader until this season, when cult hero Mike Hessman of the Toledo Mud Hens surpassed him. Negro League legend Luke Easter, whose number is also retired by the Rochester Red Wings, was a productive power hitter in Buffalo despite the fact that he was in his 40s at the time. And Jeff Manto? He hit a lot of home runs (79) for the Bisons in not a lot of at-bats (923) and is recognized as the team’s “modern-day” home run leader.
Given the size of the stadium, most of the Bisons’ between-inning entertainment is videoboard-based. This celebrity look-a-like cam got a great reaction, as it featured dozens of fans and their alleged celebrity doppelgangers.
The Bisons lost by a 9-3 score, and shortly after the game concluded they appeared on the field and threw souvenirs to the crowd. I dutifully yelled for them to throw something to me, but their arms were weak.
On the way out of the ballpark, I happened to glance toward the vendor stocking area where, hours ago, freight forwarder Phil Walck had valiantly eaten a bologna sandwich. Was that Conehead that I spotted?
It was! My last act of the evening was to interview Conehead the beer vendor, and you can read that HERE.
Good night, Conehead, and good night, Buffalo!
My end-of-season Empire State ballpark road trip extravaganza began on August 22 in Batavia, New York, home of the Muckdogs. Upon the conclusion of that evening’s game, I made the short drive to Rochester, New York, and checked in to the rather extravagant (by Minor League standards) Hyatt Regency Hotel. This put me in an amenable — nay, ideal — situation to witness some Rochester Red Wings baseball the following day at Frontier Field.
And there would be plenty of baseball to witness, as on the docket for this Saturday afternoon/evening was a Red Wings doubleheader against the the eternal mouthful that are the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. The visual highlights of my walk to the stadium were already documented in a previous post. Those wanderings led me to this, my first view of the stadium.
First doesn’t necessarily equal best, of course, but my second view of the ballpark wasn’t much better.
Third time’s the charm? Not really, but getting closer.
While taking in this vast expanse of brick, I saw a sign that elucidated the Red Wings’ position on ticket scalping. (For the record, the only time I ever saw ticket scalping at a Minor League ballpark was at Nat Bailey Stadium in Vancouver.)
In the photo below, one can spot Rochester’s iconic Kodak Tower in the background. Construction on the Kodak Tower was completed 100 years ago, and it stood as Rochester’s tallest building until the Xerox Tower was built in 1967. (That building, of course, was a mere facsimile of other, bolder, architectural accomplishments.)
As for Frontier Field, it is not 100 years old nor has it ever held the status of being Rochester’s tallest building. The facility, which boasts a capacity of just under 11,000 people, opened in 1996. It is owned by the county, and the Red Wings, a community-owned team, are the sole tenant. I entered the stadium at 4 p.m., upon which a small squadron of game day employees combined to hand me a strip of “Legends” baseball cards, thundersticks, and a small stack of Wegman’s coupons. I attempted to reject the thundersticks overture, but was told, friendly but forcefully, that “Everybody needs thundersticks!”
Covertly, and with no small sense of shame, I abandoned my unwanted thundersticks on a nearby card table and proceeded to take in the view. The sun, reticent to assert itself earlier in the day, had regained its luminescent mojo and was emanating heat rays through cumulonimbus cloud cover. It was shaping up to be a beautiful day (and night) for baseball.
Speaking as one with celiac disease, it is always gratifying to see a team making concessions to food allergies. This “Allergen-Free” stand was not open at the time,, but, for the record, the menu consisted of Nachos, “Worry Free” Pizza, and “Tuna Melt Away Your Cares.” Unfortunately, “Root Beer Float Away in a Sea of Allergen-Free Tranquility” was not on the menu, nor was “Fettuccine Alfredo of Cross Contamination? Don’t Be.”
Back under the roof, I encountered what has to be Minor League Baseball’s only baseball glove-bedecked fiberglass horse. If you’d like to know more about this baseball glove-bedecked fiberglass horse, then simply click here.
Hypnotically undulating Zoo Night theme jersey, Rochester Red Wings https://t.co/JQsZMcYZD3
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 23, 2014
Zoo Night and every night, one can find this over-sized avian on the concourse.
In addition to being a number doled out to long-shot prospects during Spring Training, 8,222 is a reference to the number of Red Wings shares sold by team president Morrie Silver to insure that the team stayed in Rochester. This effort occurred in 1956, and Silver remained the majority stockholder until his death in 1974. (His daughter, Naomi, is currently the COO of Rochester Community Baseball.)
Luke Easter, #36, was with the Red Wings from 1959-64. The legendary slugger was well into his 40s at the time, having already played many years in the Negro Leagues and, later, the Cleveland Indians.
And then there’s Joe Altobelli, #26, a player, coach, manager, general manager and broadcaster who is known as Rochester’s “Mr. Baseball.” Mr. Altobelli, in statue form.
And here’s Mr. Altobelli, now in his early 80s, live and in person.
Altobelli, now retired, is still a regular presence at Frontier Field. I spent an inning speaking with him, neglecting to mention that one of my most enduring possessions is a 1983 Philadelphia Phillies National League Champions pennant. (Altobelli managed the Orioles that season, who vanquished the Phils in the World Series.) Anyhow, my feature on the long career of Rochester’s “Mr. Baseball” can be found HERE.
This conversation was arranged by Red Wings general manager Dan Mason, who was very gracious with his time throughout the first game of the doubleheader and beyond. We walked here, there and everywhere as well as up, down and around. Much of the information contained in this post is informed by his knowledge and expertise.
Like, hey, here’s the team’s “Louisville Slugger Hall of Fame.” This particular Hall of Fame has nothing to do with baseball ability, and everything to do with gastronomic endurance. If, over the course the season, a fan eats 10 half-pound hot dogs with everything on them, then they earn induction. The BBWAA is absent from the process.
A perhaps more significant accomplishment would be earning enshrinement into the team’s Wall of Fame. (Note the aesthetic similarity to the Batavia Muckdogs’ much smaller Wall of Fame, as both clubs are operated by the Red Wings.)
Among the many Wall honorees is Fred Merkle, who, as Keith Olbermann can tell you, should be known for more than just his boner.
This building, located down the left field line, used to be a fire house. A proposed stadium renovation project calls for this structure to house a Rochester baseball history museum.
And, yes, take a look at this signage. The lawn seats are fed by worm power. (They are also peanut-free, not because worms hate peanuts but so that those suffering from nut allergies have a safe place to sit).
For the record, James Beresford uses “Ghetto Superstar” as his walk-up music. Also for the record, Beresford is a native of Glen Waverley in Victoria, Australia.
Frontier Field is home to some 13000 engraved bricks, purchased by fans (at $100 per) and engraved with a personalized message. New bricks are added every year, insuring that there is always mortar love.
To create Club 3000, the team took down two walls and created what is, in essence, three suites in one. It accommodates up to 120 people and can be rented for $2000 (plus food). Note the steel beams, which denote where the walls used to be.
Also, whether the team knows it or not, Kool Keith has already written an awesome Club 3000 theme song.
Down the hall from Club 3000, one can find none other than Mr. Fred Costello in the press box. Fred plays the organ at every home game, and has done so since 1977. I wrote an article all about it.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 23, 2014
Also, while I did not mention it in the article, let it be known that Fred Costello wrote this delightfully campy Red Wings theme song. Play it loudly and play it proudly.
By the time I was finished interviewing Fred, the first game of the doubleheader was complete. The Red Wings had won by a 3-2 score, with former Moniker Madness semi-finalist Mark Hamburger earning the win and ambidextrous Pat Venditte taking the loss. The crowd was sparse at the time the first game began, but by this point a healthy throng had filed into the ballpark for the regularly scheduled evening action.
Said entertainment included a guest appearance by wrestler Tito Santana, who, for a fee, was signing autographs on the concourse. Santana also took the time to pose with a marginalized sportswriter. This individual, like Van Gogh and the dude who sang for Sublime, possesses a genius that will not be fully appreciated until after he has shuffled off of this mortal coil.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 25, 2014
Ceremonial first pitch friends forever! (#CFPFF)
The National Anthem was performed by local brass and woodwind talent.
With the nightcap underway, Mason and I resumed walking around. Back outside of the stadium, we checked out this statue of former team president Morrie Silver. The model for the child in this statue was Silver’s grandson (and namesake) Morrie.
Oh, and I didn’t even mention that the Zooperstars! were in town on this particularly evening. I spoke with Brennan Latkovski, a core member of the Zooperstars! squad, between ballgames and he relayed the distressing news that Delta had lost the piece of luggage containing the Roger Clamens costume. He said that it was now due to arrive in Buffalo at 7:10, upon which it would be driven to the ballpark.
Spoiler alert! The Clamens costume did not make it to the ballpark in time to be incorporated into an on-field routine, but the show went on and Zooperstars! (metaphorically) brought down the house per usual. The only photo I have is this, featuring Manny Pach-uiao and Harry Canary. (Just kidding, the elephant’s name is “Elephant Presley” and, contrary to popular assumption, his favorite Fleetwood Mac album is “Rumours.”)
After witnessing the Zooperstars! in action, Mason introduced me to Mary Blasko and her father, Ed. The Blaskos attend all Red Wings home games as well road games in Syracuse in Buffalo. I spoke with them for a bit, enjoying Mary’s enthusiasm and Ed’s dry humor, and saw them again in Syracuse a few days later. You’ve got to love the super fans! (Unfortunately, well-known fan “Wing Nut” was not in attendance. I would have liked to meet Wing Nut.)
Next up on the agenda was to meet Brad Lewis, my designated eater for the evening. (You know, the individual who eats the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). Brad attended the game with his girlfriend, Kara, who, with grace and aplomb, assisted with his food consumption efforts.
Brad and I first met while attending the University of Pittsburgh, where we were both involved with the campus radio station WPTS (92.1 on your FM dial, call 412-383-WPTS to make a request). He has since returned to his native Rochester, and describes himself as “an ex-hobo chaser who has since moved on to greener pastures.” (Seriously, his previous job often put him in the unfortunate position of hobo adversary.) Kara, a native of Lansing, Michigan (hence the tattoo), has lived in Rochester for five years and currently teaches chemistry at a community college.
“I’m the brains of this operation,” said Kara. “He’s the looks.”
Brad’s task was to tackle the Red Wings’ iteration of the Garbage Plate, the Rochester culinary specialty that originated at a restaurant called Nick Tahou Hots.
Designated eater checks in, RocRedWings https://t.co/ovuInUd9YL
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 24, 2014
While there are a wide array of Garbage Plate variations throughout Rochester, the standard version is home fries and macaroni salad topped with a hot dog or hamburger and meat sauce (which Brad described as “gelatinous meat in hot oil”). Kara mentioned that she prefers her Garbage Plates with baked beans, and Brad responded that “That’s what someone not from Rochester would do.”
The Red Wings’ Garbage Plate adhered to the standard formula first made famous by Nick Tahou. (Oh, and it’s just called a “Plate,” because, technically, only Nick Tahou can sell a Garbage Plate.) Fittingly, this could be found at the Home “Plate” concession stand, one of many, many ballpark concession options.
Brad says that the best plate in Rochester can be found at an establishment called “Mark’s Texas House,” which refers to it as “The Sloppy Plate.” He had no love for Nick Tahou’s, saying “That place is physically disgusting, a gross old warehouse. I have not heard of any violent escapades taking place there in a while, so that’s good.”
As for the Red Wings’ version, Brad said that it was “above standard” for a “public” offering, and far superior to the plate sold at the Seneca Park Zoo.
Garbage Plate ruminations were interrupted by a fifth-inning rendition of “God Bless America” (Minor League doubleheaders consist of seven inning games), which was just surreal. The young girl on the mic sang it a very slow pace, paused just before the ending and then proceeding to sing the whole song again at a faster clip. She still didn’t make it to the end, pausing and then re-starting a third time before stopping abruptly. I guess you had to have been there.
“Is this Italian? It tastes like a marinara sauce,” said Kara.
“It is insane,” added Brad.
“It’s just very tomato-y for a barbecue sauce,” concluded Kara. “It’s okay, though. We’re still eating it.”
These eating endeavors took us right through the conclusion of the second game, which was won by the RailRiders. A post-game launch-a-ball followed, which was followed by mascot Spikes initiating the wave.
Fireworks on the field RocRedWings https://t.co/r1RyaI2qrL
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 24, 2014
Afterwards, the fireworks show playlist was displayed on the videoboard. For whatever reason, the show was dedicated to Red Wings pitcher Trevor May, who ended the season as a member of the Minnesota Twins.
But for the final word on music, and this blog post, let’s return to Brad “Designated Eater” Lewis. He cites NeedleDrop as Rochester’s best record store and, more importantly, wants YOU to support Rochester free form community radio. Take it away, Brad:
WAYO 104.3 is a free form community radio station that will air every kind of music known to man. Prog, new wave, punk, reggae, hip hop…we got it all. Once the records stop spinning there is talk, news, comedy, drama and original plays. If it works as sound we’ll put it on. We are currently still fundraising with a goal of transmitting online in November and officially being on air in the new year. Check out our Facebook page and help us out. Or maybe just give a listen. Especially my show. It’s what radio was invented for.
I, for one, am looking forward to hearing Brad’s show, which still needs a name. How about “Garbage Platters”?
That’s all I’ve got, roll the credits!