Results tagged ‘ Norfolk Tides ’

Return to the Road: Peanut Country, Pulled Pork and Pittsburgh

Return to the Road 2015: Trip Three, Chapter Two

The previous installment of my “Return to the Road” series of blog posts covered my time in Richmond on June 25 and 26th. On the afternoon of June 26th, I left Richmond and drove straight to Norfolk’s Harbor Park for that evening’s game between the Tides and Toledo Mud Hens. That was a horrible drive. I got stuck in horrific traffic en route to a tunnel whose name I do not care to remember, and by the time I arrived at the ballpark I could barely think coherently.

The next day, my mind had returned to an acceptably functioning state. Before embarking on the 200-mile drive to Lynchburg, I set my coordinates for — you guessed it — a record store. This is The Groove Record Shop, located on the ground floor of a new(ish) apartment building on Granby Street.

IMG_1504I was greeted at The Groove by Paul Levine, the store’s amiable sexagenarian owner. He told me an abbreviated version of that which is explained in this local news article — namely, that the original Groove Record Shop opened in 1949 and was owned by parents, with the store eventually moving to Granby Street. When Levine opened up the “new” Groove in 2014, it marked a triumphant return to Granby Street after a 46-year hiatus.

Why can’t I ever take a good picture when I’m inside a record store?

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The Groove’s overall selection was solid but relatively sparse: All vinyl, both new and used. I picked up a used copy of Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” and a slightly damaged early Bob Seger record (“Smokin’ O.P.’s”, which is unfortunately not a reference to on-base plus slugging percentage).

After leaving The Groove, I briefly admired Granby Street’s faded historical signage.

IMG_1507I also noticed that the Granby Theater would be hosting my next special event. Thanks, guys.

IMG_1506It was then time to hit the open road. Within an hour, the landscape had changed greatly. Wakefield, Virginia, is peanut country.

IMG_1508I stopped in at the Peanut Co. and got some brittle.

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Shortly thereafter, I pulled in to the Virginia Diner. Because, you know, it’s a Legend in a Nutshell.

IMG_1510It was too crowded in the diner, however, filled as it was with glassy-eyed peanut devotees. I abandoned my plan to get a meal there, trusting that the road would provide, and it did.

In Waverly, Virginia, I found Cowling’s BBQ.

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This was North Carolina-style barbecue, with a vinegar-based sauce. I prefer a vinegar-based sauce, especially when it’s atop a pile of succulent pulled pork.

IMG_1511After that, things are kind of a blur for the next couple of days. I attended that evening’s (rained-out) Lynchburg Hillcats game, and was on the road the next morning for a pleasant Sunday drive to Salem. After seeing the Salem Red Sox that afternoon, I visited a Mexican restaurant for dinner. I forget the name of this Mexican restaurant, but after doing a little internet research I’m going to guess that it was El Toreo.

At any rate, this is the most absurd amount of food I’ve ever ended up with after placing a single order.

IMG_1531From there, the blur continued. Salem gave way to Potomac, and while I enjoyed visiting the Potomac Nationals I did not enjoy driving around the greater D.C. area.

At all.

I live in NYC, which also has terrible traffic, but the difference is that you can live in NYC without a car. I don’t understand how people can live in suburban D.C. and not have the traffic drive them insane. Their tolerance for daily suffering is greater than mine.

On June 30th I finally left the confines of Virginia, crossing the state line into Maryland en route to West Virginia to see the Black Bears. Along the way, somewhere in Maryland, I stopped at a convenience store and bought the local Dutch delicacy that is the beet egg. (I was already aware of beet eggs as a result of buying one at a Hagerstown Suns game I attended in 2011.)

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Contains: EGGS

Beet eggs are naturally reddish-purple in color, as a result of being pickled in a beet-based brine, but for some reason the eggs I bought listed “red food coloring” as an ingredient. This just makes them redder, I guess.

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After witnessing June 30’s West Virginia Black Bears game, I drove straight to Pittsburgh and arrived late that night. I went to college in Pittsburgh (Pitt, class of 2001) and still have friends there, so this was a good opportunity for a quick visit.

When in Pittsburgh, visiting Jerry’s Records is a must. An absolute must. As I’ve written before (and will write again), it is the world’s greatest record store.

This is the main room of the store, but there are several other rooms and thus plenty more records beyond what can be seen in this picture.

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I contemplated buying this album and sending it to Wisconsin Timber Rattlers broadcaster (and noted ’70s TV aficionado) Chris Mehring. Instead, I just took a picture. I mean, why would one buy a Kojak album instead of watching him on the Telly?

IMG_1569 Speaking of ’70s TV…

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And on and on it goes. Jerry’s is a goldmine, and I bought a bunch of stuff. I won’t bore you with the details. There have been too many of those already.

Thank you for, once again, for returning to the road with me.  I’ve got two more trips left to write about in this manner, which should then lead to the announcement of my 2016 travel itinerary. Is it ever not the season?

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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Biz Blog Bouillabaisse II: The New Batch

Yesterday’s bouillabaisse blog post focused exclusively on anniversary logos. Today, the bouillabaisse returns for the more wide-ranging grab bag of the Minor League odds, sods, bits, scraps, leftovers, debris and remnants that you (may) have come to love. If you’re a fan of divers and sundry, then you’re definitely in the right place.

Let’s begin by returning to yesterday’s topic, as I neglected to include the Lancaster JetHawks’ 20th anniversary logo.

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The JetHawks will be celebrating this Diamond milestone throughout the season, perhaps most noticeably with their “20th Anniversary Mondays” promo (in which ticket prices are rolled back to what they were in 1996). May I suggest a promotion in which they ask fans to submit their best Lancaster-area dust storm photos from the last 20 years? This could be called “Show Us Your Haboobs.”

Yesterday (or Wednesday, for those keeping score at home), the Columbia Fireflies unveiled their uniforms. The Fireflies are the Mets’ Class A affiliate, replacing the Savannah Sand Gnats.

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Interestingly, the Fireflies’ press release does not include the phrase “glow in the dark.” But, yes, portions of this uniform will indeed glow in the dark. Entities across the internet were quick to celebrate this fact.

Question: Are the Fireflies the first Minor League team to have uniforms that incorporate glow-in-the-dark elements?

Answer: No.

Last week the Omaha Storm Chasers announced the winners of their annual bookmark design contest, which the teams says is “the highlight” of their “Hit the Books” literacy program. I am including this photo of the winning designs because the overall winner’s name is “Brooklyn Bratetic” and that has to be one of the coolest names I’ve ever heard.

2016 Hit The Books Winners PosterNote, also, that one of the other winners is named “Koa Stonebraker.” Kids in Omaha must be cooler than kids in other places.

You may recall that, early last month, the Norfolk Tides unveiled new logos. These logos prominently featured a seahorse, and now that seahorse has a name. His name is Triton.

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You may also recall (but more likely you never even knew) that January 21 was “Squirrel Appreciation Day.” The World’s Fastest Squirrel, long a part of the Lake Elsinore Storm’s usual gang of idiots, was one of the prime recipients of this nationwide outpouring of appreciation.

Oh, and wouldn’t you know it? I have just been reminded of another anniversary logo that I forgot to include in my previous post: The Tri-City ValleyCats are celebrating their 15th season. If my calculations are correct, each white star in the logo equals one season, while each red star equals four seasons.

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Now that this post is properly bookended, I’ll bring this latest (and therefore greatest) bouillabaisse session. Stay tuned for more, if you’re into that sort of thing.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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Shaking Off the Rust

Happy New Year! I started this blog in 2007, which means that 2016 is the 10th year in which it has existed. And yet, this blog will not turn 10 years old for another 20 months. This is a real headscratcher, perhaps the blog anniversary equivalent of the Monty Hall Problem.

Or perhaps not. Perhaps, as usual, I simply have no idea of what it is I speak. Perhaps I should move on to an issue of greater substance. Or at least an issue of some substance. I’ll take what I can get. So let’s proceed with the first bouillabaisse blog post of 2016. (This year, I am now 1-for-1 when it comes to spelling bouillabaisse correctly on the first attempt. It’s all downhill from here.)

Yes, it’s 2016. But let’s begin with my favorite team-produced video of 2015, which comes courtesy of the Norfolk Tides.

The Tides, as you’ll recall, unveiled a new set of logos on December 2. These new logos, like almost all new logos, were immediately excoriated by the team’s fan base via the usual social media channels. The Tides, taking a page from the Jimmy Kimmel playbook, took a “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach:

And, just out of curiosity, what do you think? Are these logos worthy of excoriation? I, for one, think that the sea horse is pregnant with possibility.

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Moving on from excoriation to exfoliation: Dr Zizmor, a legend of New York City subway advertising, has announced his retirement. I think a “Salute to Dr. Zizmor” promo within the NYC market would be great, but maybe that’s simply because it’s the first week back from the holidays and my brain is not yet up to fully-functioning status. It might never get there.

zizI’ve got no Segway, which is one of the reasons I ride the subway. So let’s get this one hover with and rock and roll on to the next item.

You may recall that, during last month’s Winter Meetings Trade Show, OT Sports was hawking KISS theme jerseys.

kiss_jersey_aj5f4fam_k9hjrzcxKISS theme jerseys will inevitably lead to larger KISS theme promos, and there is a precedent for that sort of thing. Teams thinking of jumping on the 2016 KISS bandwagon can pick up pointers from the Prince William Cannons (1998) and Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (1999); both of these promos were overseen by Pat Filippone (currently president of the Seventh Inning Stretch ownership group). Click on the above links and learn, while coming to terms with the fact that I am unable to close this bit with a good KISS reference. I gave it my Beth, though.

Given their innate desire to never alienate the fan base, Minor League teams are loathe to dive into the murky waters of politics. But Lowell Spinners’ mascot Canaligator already lives in murky waters, so he’s gone ahead and launched a presidential campaign.

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Canaligator announced his presidential intent following a Donald Trump rally held at Lowell’s Tsongas Center (yes, a Donald Trump rally was staged at a venue named after a lifelong Democrat). The press release contains this immortal quote:

“Look, I’m just a blue-collar gator who believes in staying in touch with his roots. Lowell is my home. These are the canals I swam in as a hatchling. LeLacheur Park is where I fell in love with baseball. What’s more American than an alligator running for president out of a baseball stadium?” 

Canaligator has long had his own Twitter account, but today he began a separate account solely devoted to his political aspirations. Groundbreaking.

Canaligator has not aligned himself as a member of a specific party. Why is he hiding his long-standing Green Party roots?

Get it? Because he’s green.

From the “I’ve never seen anything quite like this before” department comes this news from the Trenton Thunder:

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John Fierko, a member of the Trenton Thunder front office during their inaugural 1994 season, has returned to the team as its VP of ticket sales. From the press release:

Fierko was a member of the Thunder front office staff in 1994 when the franchise began operation. Fierko spent four years with the Thunder as Director of Ticket Sales before embarking on a career that saw him spend time with the Philadelphia 76ers, the ECHL, the Trenton Devils, the Lakewood BlueClaws and Comcast Sports Net Philadelphia.

Fierko’s first stint with the Thunder began so long ago, a baby born at that time can now legally drink. Those long-ago babies can not yet rent a car, however. That milestone will not occur until 2019.

I’ll close with an item out of Lexington that is, in a word, great: On Friday, the Legends are inviting six groups of local fifth grade students to the ballpark, where they will compete in a Shark Tank-style competition to develop a 2016 promo item. More info from my best friend, the press release:

After making a visit to the ballpark last fall, students from three classes, working in teams as part of an economics unit, were asked to generate ideas for a Legends giveaway.   Students conducted research, designed products, and then created and conducted surveys of other students, faculty and administrators to get their reactions.

Here’s a picture of some of the kids in brainstorming mode, aided and abetted by Ty Cobb (yes, Ty Cobb).

Ty Cobb and WWB students

Stay tuned to see what these kids come up with. And, other teams: Steal this idea.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: Pork, Pork, Pork and More Pork in Norfolk

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.

036Located 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.

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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.

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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.

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The “Little Piggy Wall-O-Shame” has far more occupants. Whereas three have succeeded, several dozen had failed.

009Prior 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.”

041Andrew 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.)

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Josh Samuels: Pork Challenge Instigator

“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.

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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.)

044Tyler’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.

IMG_1483In 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.

IMG_1479Andrew, meanwhile, seemed to be appealing to a higher power. I’d love to see this picture turned into a stained glass panel.

046The Pork Challenge officially began at 7:42 p.m. Alright, guys. Have at it.

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.

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“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.

047The game going on outside seemed a million miles away.

052“15 minutes into the Pork Challenge, Andrew has eaten all 12 wings. Still much meat to go.”

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.

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.”

053Good advice, but before re-engaging Andrew engaged in some light calisthenics. Gotta get the blood flowing.

055Cory, a Pork Challenge veteran, now assessed the scene.

“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.”

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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.

Tyler, eliminated.

“I think it was the sausage that got me,” he said.

057This was all too much for Andrew, who immediately got up and moved to the next table lest he be the next to evacuate.

“Oh, I gotta move,” he said. “If I see it, then I’ll be the next one to do it.”

IMG_1490We were now in the homestretch.

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.”

058It 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.

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.)

059And congratulations as well to the mysterious Tyler Rosso. You made the night more interesting, Tyler, and I’m glad you stopped by.

061benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: Having Cake, Eating it Too in Norfolk

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.

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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).
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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.

067As for what Rip Tide is, I don’t know. He’s vaguely aquatic. Perhaps his unfamiliarity with dry land is what led to this infamous 2012 blooper, an absolute classic by any standard.

Rip Tide wasn’t the only costumed character lurking about.

069That’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.

IMG_1497Being the enterprising journalist I am, a modern-day Damon Runyon by any standard, I landed an exclusive interview with the dude who got smashed in the face with a cake.

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.

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.

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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: IMG_1607 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.

It was then time for Launch-A-Ball, everyone’s favorite skill-based post-game tennis ball-tossing endeavor.

073“Balls thrown from suites barely cleared the dugout,” I wrote in my notebook. “Some bounced on the dugout, some missed and then were recovered by fans in front rows.”

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.

074It was now 10:30 p.m. Do you know where your children are? Or, barring that, do you know where the nearest mermaid statue is?

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.

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I guess I had enough to write about after all.

Fin.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: It’s Always a Tides Ballgame in Norfolk

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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Craft beer is blowing up across the country, figuratively in most cases. This trend has made its way into Harbor Park.

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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.

062Among the treasures that can be found therein are Star Wars-themed Tides merchandise.

006While the Tides currently do not offer any Fro-Yoda desserts, Flamingo Joe’s has you covered on the deep-fried front:

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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.”

008Back outside, in the right field corner, is the Shock Top Party Deck.

016From here, one has views of the field (I mean, of course).

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As well as the bullpens.

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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.

014Meanwhile, 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.

018Ian and I then headed upstairs to the second level, which provides a striking view of the Elizabeth River.

019Up 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. 

024My wandering impulse, strong (and as obsessive-compulsive) as ever, then brought me down to left field. Life is but a picnic down there.

029I also happened upon a mascot doing karaoke on the field. One doesn’t see this every day.

One also doesn’t often see a concession stand named in honor of a long-time executive. .

033Rosie 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.

039My 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. 

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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.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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About Friday Night: Norfolk Tides, June 26, 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 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.

002Harbor Park, from within: 

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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.

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At Random: Tides executive vice president Dave Rosenfield, now in his 60th season of professional baseball.

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Ballpark Character: Visiting entertainer Reggy the Purple Party Dude accidentally dropped a cake on this guy’s face.

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Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day:

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Musing Mascots in Costumed Contemplation

For mascots, there’s no escaping the spotlight. These mute yet endlessly expressive characters are  the center of attention everywhere they go, and as a result they always need to be “on.”  Pictures are requested, high fives demanded, and antics expected. It’s an exhilarating existence, to be sure, but not at all conducive to moments of quiet reflection and self-analysis.

Yet such moments, while rare, do occur. To capture them on camera is an exhilarating feeling, akin to a landlocked bird watcher getting an glimpse of the elusive Red Phalarope. This is how I felt during a June trip to Lake County, when I was able to capture Captains mascot Skipper in a moment of introspection.

Feeling inspired by this rare bit of photographic luck, I asked readers to please send in introspective mascot photos of their own. This request was met with an enthusiastic response, and the results are contained in this post.

What follows is the most impressive collection of introspective mascot photos that the world has ever seen.

The above individual is Louie of the Great Lakes Loons, whose powers of introspection are far greater than the average bird. Soon after abandoning his dugout perch, he went into the stands and got the fans to join him in a moment of quiet contemplation.

Another city boasting thoughtful birds amongst its citizenry is Toledo. Muddy the Mud Hen is a voracious reader, and can sometimes be spotted at the local library with his beak buried in a good book.

Muddy’s literary endeavors have increased his powers of imagination. Back at the ballpark, he sometimes gets lost in thought while resting his left arm on a railing that doesn’t even exist.

As evidenced by the picture of Skipper at the top of this post, ballpark tunnels represent a good place for a mascot to temporarily escape from the madding crowd. Here’s Phinley of the Clearwater Threshers, patriotically pontificating.

Meanwhile, in Winston-Salem, Bolt takes a moment to reflect before instigating some between-inning hula-baloo.

They say lightning doesn’t strike twice, but I was able to get a shot of Bolt during my visit to Winston-Salem this past July. This one is perhaps less “introspective” than “fatigued.”

While in Winston-Salem, I spent time with not one but TWO blog readers who went on to email me introspective mascot photos. Matt “Possum” Campbell solicited this shot of the Danville Braves’ “Blooper,” who does his best thinking with left hand planted firmly on stomach.


Meanwhile, veteran Minor League wanderer Rex Doane sent in pictures from various far-flung locales. Our journey with Rex begins in Norfolk, where Rip Tide sometimes assumes a near-beatific demeanor.

Then we fly over to flyover country, with this behind-the-back view of Swoop of the South Bend Silver Hawks.

And, finally, we arrive in the modest environs of the Modesto Nuts’ dugout. That’s where Al Almond sometimes goes in order to escape from the nuttiness surrounding him.

Another thoughtful dugout denizen is Fort Wayne’s Johnny TinCap, whose demeanor is never crotchety even if his hobbies sometimes are.

Of course, one doesn’t need to be solitary to be introspective. Over the three seasons that the team has been in existence, Chopper of the Gwinnett Braves has established himself as one of the most empathetic woodchucks in the Minors. Here he is having an on-field heart-to-heart.

Chopper’s upright demeanor is in stark contrast to Millie of the Lowell Spinners. On the last day of the season, this canal-dwelling alligator went deep into her own headspace while sitting on a stadium bench.

Allie’s daughter, Millie, simply curled up in the fetal position in order to think long and hard about the season that had just transpired.

With this concept on the verge of collapse, it seems that I’ll have to call it a day. Of course, keeping sending those introspective mascot photos in. I am totally amenable to there being a second, third, fourth, and even fifth installment of this series.

There will be no sixth installment.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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Free Publicity and Foregone Conclusions

I had a blog post all ready to go this morning, but then a “big” “news story” came across my “desk”:

Last night, the Akron Aeros got a prominent shoutout on “The Daily Show.” The team’s recent “Nice 2 Meat You” burger caused the perpetually apoplectic Lewis Black to wax enthusiastic. Watch it HERE (the Aeros come in at the 2:25 mark).

And here’s the picture, first seen on this blog, that appeared on the show.

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Touting the “Nice 2 Meat You” as a much-needed antidote to the beef-skimping Taco Bells of the world, Black held aloft a pair of ducats and claimed that he would be at the Akron Aeros home opener.

black.jpg“Look for me on the Jumbotron,” he yelled. “I’ll be the one having a heart attack.”

Talk about going out in style. Hey Lewis, you might as well have a “Three Dog Night” while you’re at it. And then, if still living, go on a road trip that includes Charleston and West Michigan.

I caught up with Aeros food and beverage director Jason Kerton this morning, and he says that he had no idea that his creation was going to get a mention during Black’s latest broadside.

“I was falling asleep on the couch last night, and my phone started beeping left and right,” said Kerton. “I was getting a lot of texts from friends telling me that [Nice 2 Meat You] was on TV.”

And while no one wants Black to go into cardiac arrest while enjoying an Aeros game, the team would love to see him make an appearance at Canal Park this season.

“We’d give him the burger, a Three Dog Night, and anything else he wanted,” said Kerton. “But I’m still in shock that we were on the Daily Show. It was funny that we were on it, and even more funny that no one knew it was going to happen.”

We now return to regularly scheduled programming…

Happy Groundhog’s Day!Groundhog_of_Lenoir,_NC,_USA.jpg

Most teams ignore this special day of rodent weather prognostication, instead focusing their energies on Valentine’s Day. But in Norfolk, the Tides have put together a promotion with an extremely easy-to-predict result:

[We’re not] taking any chances that a groundhog in Punxsutawney sees his shadow and curses everyone to six more weeks of winter.

Instead, the Tides have employed the weather-prognosticating services of Rip Tide, and they have even offered a bribe to the furry mascot. If Rip Tide doesn’t see his shadow – or just blatantly ignore his shadow all together – then the Tides will give 25 lucky fans a pair of tickets to the Tides game on Sunday, April 17.

And the stunning result? Rip Tide didn’t see his shadow, winter will soon be over, and fans may now enter into a drawing for free tickets. And, for maximum publicity, this all went down on a local morning news program. Good work, Rip Tide.

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Meanwhile, the Portland Sea Dogs didn’t even make a pretense of pretending that a Punxsutawney prognostication had any meaning to them.

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The team’s “Groundhog Day Special” is as cut-and-dry as a Saharan bodybuilder.

Regardless of whether or not the groundhog sees his shadow today, there are only 9 weeks before the Sea Dogs open the 2011 Season! Therefore the Sea Dogs have a special $9 ticket package offer for fans, good today only!

A different sort of mascot intrigue is going on over in Lancaster, as JetHawks mascot KaBoom is intimating that he may leave the real world for a virtual one.

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As we inch our way closer to the 2011 season it seems as if JetHawks fans are all asking the same question; Is it true that KaBoom will join the next generation of Angry Birds?

Lancaster JetHawks Director of Promotions Jeremy Castillo addressed the issue early Monday morning, “At this point I can neither confirm nor deny the rumors. KaBoom and I have had a few closed door meetings, and he has expressed some interest in the game. That’s really all I can say at this time.”

If KaBoom does indeed join the next generation of Angry Birds, it would make him the first Minor League mascot video game character of all time. Let’s all salute this avian innovator:

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Or, as I like to call him, an “innavianator.”

benjamin.hill@mlb.com
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