Results tagged ‘ Jacksonville Suns ’

On the Road: Elated and Inflated in Jacksonville

To see all of my posts from this visit to the Jacksonville Suns (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my April 2015 Florida trip, click HERE. To see all of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

This is the end! The last post from the last stop on my season-opening Florida ballpark road trip. I’m feeling a little loopy as I write this — it’s been a long day and I leave for my next trip tomorrow morning — but not as loopy as I felt while watching the Jacksonville Suns host the Montgomery Biscuits on this wet Saturday night in April.

080My old pals the Zooperstars! were in town.

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Things always get weird when the Zooperstars! are in town. Even when! I’m writing about the Zooperstars! things get weird, as I start! putting exclamation marks in all the wrong! places.

Southpaw was like “Oh, man, how can I compete with those inflatable dancing weirdos?”

IMG_1075“That was a rhetorical question,” Southpaw continued. “But I’ll answer it anyway. I can’t compete with those inflatable dancing weirdos. I just can’t. I’m outta here.”

IMG_1076Upon re-emerging on the concourse, I paid a visit to Pedro Bragan’s concourse “Chairman’s Box.” Here, he poses with his “Victory Bell,” a locomotive bell presented to his father, Peter Bragan Sr., by CSX Transportation.

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Considering that this game was preceded by a 102-minute rain delay, Pedro was satisfied with how many fans stuck around.

“That’s the power of the Zooperstars!,” he said. (The exclamation mark is part of the Zooperstars! name. Do not mistake its inclusion in the preceding quote for irrational exuberance on the part of Pedro.)

And when that Victory Bell rings, you can hear it everywhere. Even here, in the rain-soaked bleacher section.

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085While I was out here in the bleacher wilderness, I enjoyed the kind of ballpark snack you just can’t find where I’m from: Salt and Vinegar Pork Rinds and Sweet Tea from the Front Porch Kettle Corn kiosk.

That’ll be it for Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville food coverage, as my designated eater (you know, the individual who eats the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits) canceled. My attempts to get a new one failed. A lot of people showed interest on Twitter, but no one sent the email that I require. That’s all I ask for: an email. Courteous, conscientious communication. How hard is that?

Anyhow, here’s a photo of one of the concession stands. It’s the best I can do right now.

074After finishing my pork rinds and sweet tea, I continued my slow lap around the concourse. The game seemed like it was a million miles away.

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Here I am approaching the scoreboard. Repeat: Approaching the scoreboard.

090I had never been so close to a pitch clock before.

I believe that this interesting little left field protrusion is called “The Knuckle.”

094The Knuckle is at the intersection of Amen Circle and Home Run Alley.

095Once I made it back to the seating bowl, I happened upon my old Zooperstar! pal Harry Canary. He had just sung the seventh-inning stretch and needed to let off some steam.

(This is my most-watched Vine of all time.)

Harry then sprayed me with silly string. This is just the sort of thing Harry does. I’m think I’m going to use this as my new online dating profile pic.

IMG_1092I watched the end of the game in close proximity to Bragan’s “Chairman’s Box.”

100But the Victory Bell remained silent on this evening — the Biscuits won the ballgame.

101Thus concluded my time in Jacksonville and thus concluded my season-opening Florida road trip. I’m hitting the road again tomorrow.

See you soon, Midwest.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: A Long Reign and a Long Rain in Jacksonville

To see all of my posts from this visit to the Jacksonville Suns (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my April 2015 Florida trip, click HERE. To see all of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

I arrived at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville hours before that evening’s Suns game was supposed to be played. Therefore, I was able to snag a primo parking place. A very long home run to left field could smash the windshield, but, hey, whatever, it’s a rental car. YOLO.

001 The area surrounding the ballpark is kind of schizophrenic. The Jacksonville Jaguars’ home of EverBank Field is located just down the street.

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On the Road: Exploring the Past in Jacksonville

To see all of my posts from this visit to the Jacksonville Suns (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my April 2015 Florida trip, click HERE. To see all of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

On the eighth and final stop of my season-opening Florida ballpark road trip, I finally busted out of the confines of the Florida State League. Specifically, I headed north to Jacksonville to see the Suns. This was a significant stop for me. Not only was it the culmination of a fairly grueling road trip, but I have now visited every Minor League ballpark in Florida (the entirety of the 12-team Florida State League as well as Pensacola and Jacksonville).

Sunshine State, complete!

010The Suns, Double-A affiliate of the Florida Marlins, have played at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville since 2003. But we’ll get to that facility over the next two posts of this series. My afternoon started with a (metaphorical) trip back in time, to a living relic from Jacksonville’s baseball history: J.P. Small Park.

019For a little bit of background on this truly historic facility, I refer you to this plaque.

037To save your eyes, I’ll type it out:

This site had been the location of baseball and other sports for [over] 100 years. 

The location has been known at different times as Barrs Field, the Myrtle Avenue Ball Park, Joseph H. Durkee Memorial Athletic Field, and since 1980, James P. Small Memorial Stadium. 

The current steel and brick grandstand has basically the same appearance as it did when it was originally designed and constructed in 1935. For 20 years this structure served as the center of professional baseball until a new municipal stadium, the Gator Bowl, opened in 1955. 

The ballpark is located in Jacksonville’s Durkeeville neighborhood. It was originally constructed in 1912, on land owned by neighborhood namesake Joseph H. Durkee. Between 1914 and 1922 it hosted Spring Training for a variety of Major League clubs (Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Athletics). Minor League teams played there intermittently between 1921 and 1961, including the 1953 South Atlantic League Braves. This team, one of the South Atlantic League’s first integrated squads, included Hank Aaron on the roster. Negro League baseball was played here as well, in the form of the Jacksonville Red Caps.

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035I was driven to the stadium by Suns director of security Rob Schoonover (a 33-year law enforcement veteran) and his wife, Jeanne. The visit to J.P. Small Park was motivated by a desire to simply see the facility, but as luck would have it a game was being played there that afternoon. Trinity Baptist College was in the final stages of an 8-2 victory over Edward Waters.

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There was game day entertainment and everything.

031After the contest concluded, I wandered out on to the field.

027The dugouts are small and muddy, so most of the teams’ baseball equipment ended up scattered about the area.

028After the game, Schoonover introduced me to Nick Malpress. He’s been a J.P. Small Ballpark fixture for over 60 years (!)

034Malpress worked as a clubhouse assistant for the 1953 Jacksonville Braves, “shining shoes and getting stuff together.”

“Henry Aaron met his wife here,” he told me. “He and Felix Mantilla were coming out of the dressing room and he saw [future wife] Barbara Lucas walking down the sidewalk. It was just one of them things.”

The ballpark’s current dimensions are a quirky 341 to left, 371 to center and 285 to right, but Malpress remembered players “hitting the ball across the street, when there was a wooden fence all the way around. Hurricane Dora tore that fence down, yeah.”

Malpress has gone on to umpire countless high school and college games at J.P. Small Ballpark, and he attends nearly every Jacksonville Suns game held at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville. But baseball’s not the only sport he’s involved with, as a Google search of his name reveals that he’s spent two decades on the Jacksonville Jaguars “Chain Crew.” He’s a Jacksonville sports icon.

Okay, it’s time for me to move the chains. This post is is the first down; stay tuned for two more, live and direct from the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville.

This quick afternoon detour to J.P. Small Ballpark was an enjoyable one.

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There’s No Place But Home

My latest (and therefore greatest) Minor League ballpark road trip wrapped up in Jacksonville on Saturday. Click here — and scroll down — to see a round-up of all the blogs and articles that have been produced so far; you can sleep well knowing that there’ll be plenty more where that came from.

That trip ended in Jacksonville, the home of the Suns, who are in the midst of a season-opening homestand that can only be described as “Brobdingnagian.”

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This sustained stretch of home games came about because the Biloxi Shuckers’ MGM Park won’t be ready until (at least) early June. Therefore, the Suns are playing in Jacksonville as the “road” team during their current (April 20-24) series against the Shuckers, in addition to regularly scheduled homestands from April 9-19 and 25-29th.

It should go without saying that hosting a homestand of such magnitude is an extremely taxing experience for the front office staff, who will be working unremittingly long days at the ballpark with nary a break in sight. If there’s one team that feels their pain, who have been there and done that, it’s the Rochester Red Wings.

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In 2012 the Red Wings’ Frontier Field served as the primary home ballpark of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, who were forced to spend the season on the road due to an extensive renovation to PNC Field. The Red Wings’ front office ended up hosting a whopping 109 games that season, with several stretches of a duration comparable to what the Suns are experiencing right now.

The Red Wings staff, a sympathetic lot, feel the Suns’ pain and have sought to help them in their time of need via this handy list. Suns staffers are advised to print it out and put it in their wallets (or purses, or fanny packs, or what have you):

Top 10 Survival Tips for a Really, Really Long Homestand

10. Nothing but day games!

9.  On-site laundry service for all employees

8. Nightly anti-rain dance to prevent doubleheaders

7. For female employees with significant others, four letters: B-E-E-R

6. For male employees with significant others, three letters: F-T-D

5. Initiate a daily post-lunch siesta

4. Daily Red Bull happy hour for the staff

3. Give mascot “body optional, head required” days

2. Hire landscaping company to do staff lawns

1. Fans pull tarp after Day 10

Thanks to Dan Mason, Matt Cipro and the entire Red Wings front office for sharing these survival tips, and good luck to the Suns as they seek to survive. I’ll have much more material from my recent Jacksonville visit, hopefully before this current homestand finally, mercifully ends.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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About Last Night: Jacksonville Suns, April 18, 2015

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 returning to New York City’s comforting embrace, I will provide the unimpeachable blog coverage that you have come to know and love. So let’s get to it, lest it get to us!

April 18, 2015 — Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville (Bragan Field), home of the Jacksonville Suns (Double-A affiliate of the Florida Marlins)

Opponent: Montgomery Biscuits, 8:47 p.m. ET start time (after a rain delay of one hour and 42 minutes)

Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, from the outside: 

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The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, from within: 

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Culinary Delight: Salt and Vinegar Pork Rinds and Sweet Tea, from third party ballpark vendor Front Porch Kettle Corn:

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Waiting for the Punch-Vine (my nightly attempt at telling an “original” ballpark joke in six seconds):

Does this count as a joke?

At Random: Suns owner Peter “Pedro” Bragan Jr. in his office

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Last Song Played Over the PA: Procol Harum, “A Whiter Shade of Pale”

Next Up: I AM HOME. Click HERE to see all of my 2015 trip itineraries.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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Passing the Torch to the Offseason

With a few exceptions, I’ve dedicated the month of October to writing about in-season endeavors that I did not get around to writing about during the season itself. So I guess it’s fitting that here on All Hallow’s Eve, also known as the last day of October, I have finally exhausted my supply of in-season content. The only thing left in my “potential blog items” Excel spreadsheet involved Jacksonville Suns infielder Derek Dietrich and that time that he performed a post-game juggling exhibition. Seriously.

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“Derek Dietrich Triples and Juggles Torches” — you know, just another day at the ol’ ballyard.

Dietrich, a 24-year-old infielder who logged 57 games with the Miami Marlins this season, pulled of the above feat during August 13’s game against Birmingham. But that wasn’t the only time he took the field in order to toss dangerous items about. Here he is throwing some knives around, potential trip to the disabled list be damned.

And that’s all folks! There is no more in-season content to be had from me (unless, you know, you want to send me some). Therefore, I suppose that now is as good a time as any to bring this to your attention:

The Trenton Thunder have won the 2013 “Promo of the Year” MiLBY Award, for their “Chase the Bat Dog Retirement Party.”

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Read the article HERE, which will be my last piece of content recapping the 2013 campaign.

But since I’m on the topic of MiLB.com content — the final “Crooked Numbers” column of 2013 ran earlier this month, and can be read HERE. After the column ran, I was alerted to this exceedingly entertaining and exquisitely “crooked” article by Aberdeen IronBirds broadcaster Jacob Rasch, on “The Oddities of a Suspended Game.” The article details the head-spinning specifics of a game that took some 33 days to complete, and is a must-read for anyone who enjoys the deep wellspring of absurdity that is baseball. Among the many nuggets contained therein, my favorite is this:

The starting pitcher, Austin Urban, struggled in the first half of the game. In four innings, he had given up 8 runs on 8 hits, including the Calderon grand slam. But in the resumption of the game, Urban was given a chance to atone.

“The suspended game fell on my day to pitch, so I got to go back out there,” Urban explained. “In the month that it took to get that game restarted, I made some big adjustments, and I approached it as a completely different start.”

Urban, given the opportunity to keep his team in the game, shut down the same Yankee lineup he had struggled against the month before. In the four innings he pitched after the game was resumed, Urban gave up only 1 hit and 3 walks, striking out 4.

Urban’s final line is strange to say the least: 8 innings pitched, 9 hits, 8 runs (all earned), 6 walks, and 6 strikeouts. All told, he threw a staggering 156 pitches, a number that would seem impossible if there weren’t a 32-day break in between pitch number 72 and 73.

Stump your friends! In 2013, no professional pitcher threw more pitches in one outing than Austin Urban’s 156.

And this concludes Ben’s Biz Blog post #998.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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Ben’s Biz Backlogged Blog Bonanza

When I’m on the road I always have so much to write about, both here on the blog and over at MiLB.com. This content overload is a good thing, but one negative aspect of it is that I can’t devote enough of my attention to that which is taking place outside of the places I visit.

C’est la vie, as the French say (when they’re giving examples of the cliched French terms that Americans actually know).

But right now? Right now I’m not on the road, nor do I have any more “On the Road” content. Therefore, today will be the first in a short series of bouillabaisse posts, in which I jump haphazardly from item to item with startling rapidity. Commence organized chaos and — warning! — some of this material is rather dated. I’m working my way through this backlog in chronological fashion.

Apropos of nothing — is R.A. Coon the best front office name in Minor League Baseball, or does Lexington’s Ty Cobb retain that honor?

(Regardless, THIS is the best blog post written by a Minor League broadcaster about someone named R.A.)

You may have seen my recent MiLB.com article about the Jacksonville Suns’ Casey Challenge, in which team president Peter “Pedro” Bragan challenges area school students to memorize the poem.

Well, speaking of the Bragans, did you know that the Suns gave away a “talking bobblehead” of Pete Bragan, Sr., the iconic team owner who passed away last season?

It really talks. Listen!

(And speaking, as I was, of “Casey at the Bat” — my favorite rendition, by far, is Tug McGraw narrating the poem while backed by Peter Nero and Philadelphia Pops Orchestra. I have it on record, and if anyone would like to assist with the LP-to-computer uploading process then let me know because I need to share it with the world at large.)

The Lehigh Valley IronPigs have long had an almost maniacal propensity for pig-related puns (the Pork Illustrated game program, for example, or a conference room for “Boar”d Meetings). These days, said puns are practically avant-garde.

The team has named its frozen yogurt bar the “Soo’eyte Spot.” You figure it out.

I have no idea how or why this happened (and it seems to have happened on multiple occasions), but the Erie SeaWolves are most likely the only team to have a Dr. Batboy.

I would like for there to be a band named “Dr. Batboy.”

Meanwhile, via Visalia broadcaster Donny Baarns, this photo of multi-generational intolerance:

And, that’s it for now. Much more where this came from, as soon as time allows.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Pickin’ Names and Pitchin’ In

One of the biggest pieces of news from this past offseason was that the city of Pensacola will be hosting a Double-A Southern League team in 2012 (read all about it HERE).

And — surprise! — this team needs a name. Following standard Minor League Baseball operating procedure, a “Name the Team” contest has been devised and today the finalists were announced: Redbones, Loggerheads, Blue Wahoos, Mullets, Aviators, and Salty Dogs.

The Pensacola News Journal,  a co-sponsor of the contest, explains: It’s a group of nicknames with ties to the U.S. Navy (Aviators), fishermen (Salty Dogs), Gulf species (Mullet, Blue Wahoo), endangered species (Loggerheads), and hunting dog (Redbone), also the name of a 1970s rock band.

The reference to Redbone being a ’70s rock band seems a little gratuitous, so I’m going to assume that writer Bill Vilona was already a fan. But beyond that this is pretty much par for the course, a consistently irreverent group of choices with ties to local wildlife and industry as well as the parent club (Redbone, natch).

Voting begins tomorrow at the newspaper’s website, and runs through the 15th. The new name will be announced on the 23rd, at which point “a logo, team colors and slogans will be created.”

Not at all surprisingly, Plan B Branding will be doing the creating.  The well-established logo and ideas company has been through this identity-creation rigmarole before, with successful and highly-publicized entities such as the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Richmond Flying Squirrels, and Omaha Storm Chasers.

And, apropos of nothing, Pensacola Rigmaroles is a pretty cool-sounding name.

Pensacola will become the Southern League’s second Floridian market, joining the Jacksonville Suns. Yesterday, the team sent out a press release drawing attention the exemplary way in which the team utilized its day off.

The Jacksonville Suns spent their travel day on Tuesday helping victims of last Wednesday’s tornados and severe thunderstorms in Pratt City, Ala., just north of Birmingham.

The Suns volunteered at the American Red Cross’ Pratt City Disaster Resource Center at the Scott School just blocks from where tornados damaged countless numbers of homes. Pratt City lost nearly 1,000 homes due to last Wednesday’s tornado damage.

Photo Credit: Roger Hoover, Jacksonville Suns

Front Row: Jhan Marinez, Luke Montz, Kevin Mattison. Back row L-R: Joey O’Gara, Dan Jennings, Omar Poveda, Benjamin Todd Jealous of NAACP, Peter Andrelczyk, Corey Madden, and Ryan Curry.

Sometimes the segues come easy, and today is one such day. Check out Kevin Mattison in the bottom right hand corner of that picture — clearly he would be right at home at tonight’s “Mustache Mania” promotion. This celebration of upper lip follicle accumulation has been officially endorsed by the esteemed American Mustache Institute.

And speaking of promos, which I am almost always speaking of, we are fast approaching the time of year in which my inbox is inundated with YOUR promo recaps, pictures, and videos. My livelihood depends on just this.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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How Lo Can You Go?

homeplanet.jpgIf there is one constant in my life, it is that I am forever stumbling. And one thing that I’ve been stumbling upon with great regularity as of late are new Minor League logos.

Let’s take a look:

The Ghosts of Casper, WY recently announced that Mr. Boyd Erickson of Bozeman, MT has been named the winner of the team’s “10th Anniversary Logo Contest”. Mr. Erickson has recently launched Tumbleweed Graphics, a design company, so perhaps this win will net him some business.
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The entire concept of a Ghost anniversary seems odd to me, as ghosts exist for eternity. There is no past or future, only an unending present of spiritual uncertainty within a hazily-defined netherworld.

The sun, meanwhile, is not eternal. Nonetheless, it possess a staying power that is largely unfathomable to those of us eking out fleeting human existences. Jacksonville’s Minor League team, which is named after this pulsating orb of life-giving warmth, recently unveiled a new color scheme. Let’s take a look at the old:

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And the new:

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If I had listed the Suns a bit later in this post I could have entitled their segment “Burn After Reading”. But that opportunity has been lost, so let me cut to the chase and list the four new items that Reading Phillies players will be wearing in 2010:

Classic Ballpark Game Cap:

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America’s Classic Ballpark Batting Practice Cap:

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Road Game Cap:

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Road Jersey:

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Looking at the above items, one would think the team was named the “Red”ding Phillies!

As tempted as I am to go out on that high note, I still have one more logo to share. Earlier today, the Arkansas Travelers unveiled their new ballpark logo. The “DSP” stands for “Dickey-Stephens Park”, and none of the other virtually infinite things that DSP could potentially stand for (“Dee Snyder’s Parents”, for example):

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This logo hasn’t been very well-recieved on the team’s Facebook page, with a standard complaint being that it would be more suited to a racecar track. But considering that ballplayers often motor around the basepaths, I say it’s a perfect fit.

And on that note, I depart. In closing, I ask that you consider becoming my FRIEND and FOLLOWER. No, these two designations are not mutually exclusive.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

Playing Catch-Up On The Road, Vol. 2

Today’s post will be brief, because I’ve got a wedding to attend. Love, it is in the air. That, and mosquitoes.

Therefore, I will simply share the following photo. It is from the Jacksonville Suns’ 2008 “Southern Rock Night” celebration, and the man in the middle is a rock ‘n roll luminary. Granted, he never played in a band, and actually is on the record as hating rock music. He nonetheless changed the course of rock ‘n roll history, simply by inspiring a crew of ne’er-do-wells to name their band after him. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Leonard Skinner:

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That’s it for me, at least until later tonight.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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