Results tagged ‘ Northwest League ’
It’s a very busy time of year for me, on a personal and professional level. It can be tough to keep track of everything that’s going on, and I often feel overwhelmed. But every so often something comes along that requires immediate attention, something so hilarious and bizarre that it trumps all else. This is one of those things:
For the ’87, ’88 and ’89 seasons, the Spokane Indians team card set featured players posing at the local NorthTown Mall. I can say, without hyperbole, that these are the greatest Minor League team card sets of all time. With perhaps a little hyperbole, I can say that these are the best baseball cards of all time.
This noteworthy bit of decades-old absurdity was brought to my attention via the Indians themselves, who recently posted an article on the team website about just how these card sets came to be. The whole thing is well worth reading, so click HERE to read it. A few notable excerpts:
Rather than having the players and coaches pose at Avista Stadium, [the team] took the players to the NorthTown Mall – who sponsored the set – and had them pose at various merchants throughout the mall.
Manager Steve Lubratich, the man responsible for creating a lineup and managing a bullpen, is posed next to a cardboard cutout of Whitney Houston, arm draped over her shoulder – perhaps not the best way to command respect from his players. Pitcher Jay Estrada is casually leaning on a shelf full of women’s clothes, outfielder Greg Smith is all smiles next to a display of aquatic shampoo, and future major leaguer Dave Hollins can be found hanging out in the food court next to a tub of popcorn.
“At the time players were staying at the Gonzaga dorms and didn’t really have access to cars, so the chance to get out and explore the mall for the afternoon was well received,” said [former Indians general manager Tim] Leip in a recent interview. “All the merchants in the mall treated the players well and for some players it was their first time at a big mall.”
It was my first baseball card so I thought maybe that’s just how it was,” said 1988 outfielder Nikco Riesgo, who posed with a Spokane Indians pennant outside a sports store on his card. “It was a great way to meet the fans. We might have seen the whole city of Spokane that day, and we were treated like the Beatles. It was the perfect place for us to interact with people.”
Indians communications coordinator Bud Bareither was kind enough to send along the photos seen above, as well as those seen below. Please, continue to enjoy:
Being made aware of the existence of these baseball cards certainly brightened my day. I hope that it brightened yours as well. And, in related news, I am now $3 poorer.
When Part One of this Hillsboro dispatch concluded I was standing in the tunnel adjacent to the visitor’s dugout, ready and waiting to participate in a between-inning contest. The kneepads were affixed and the blindfold was on, but then something got in the way of my imminent humiliation. Let’s go to the Vine.
Rain delay? https://t.co/2pZhjVtgmT
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 11, 2013
This turned into a torrential downpour in a hurry, and the game continued a minute or two longer than it really should have. This continuation of play in the midst of severe precipitation was much to the consternation of the Dust Devils dugout.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 11, 2013
In the above Vine it’s not profanity that you hear, but an angry cry of “That’s Bolshevik!” I constantly heard this word in Minor League dugouts this season, and still don’t quite understand the connotation, but shortly after hearing this word yelled in their direction the umpires did indeed agree to the cessation of play. My moment of on-field “glory” would have to wait.
Cue the interrobang because guess what?! This was THE FIRST RAIN DELAY IN HILLSBORO HOPS HISTORY. I’ve been to a lot of ballparks in my life, and seen a lot of things, but never have I witnessed a meteorological event as significant as this. I and the 3,528 fans in attendance on this sodden August Oregon evening will always be able to say, the pride evident in our respective voices, that “I was there.” (To the Hops front office: when you do the inevitable “First Franchise Rain Delay” commemorative t-shirt giveaway next season, please make sure to send one my way.)
The good news was that the turf at Hillsboro Ballpark was of the artificial variety, and therefore not much was needed in the way of tarp application: all that needed coverage was the pitcher’s mound and batter’s box. The bad news was that the grounds crew, for several agonizing minutes, was nowhere to be found (I think they were doing work on one of the other fields in the athletic complex of which Hillsboro Ballpark is a part?)
But, eventually, the grounds crew showed up and everything was put in order.
“Dude, first rain delay in franchise history and we were the ones who got to call it!” is what I’m pretty sure this umpire was saying to his cohort. (I’m sure there are some people who will call bolshevik on that quote, but I stand by it.)
The grounds crew might not have been totally prepared for the rain delay, but Barley was.
In case you’ve never seen a hop wearing a poncho. https://t.co/dVaOEo81Dv
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 11, 2013
The rains were fast, furious, and fleeting (alliterative life metaphor). After approximately half an hour the adorable mini-tarps were taken off the field, and the grounds crew started tamping things back into shape. As they did, a marriage proposal played out on the videoboard.
“There may have been a brief cessation in play, but there will never be a cessation of our love,” said the man.
I wish that couple all the best, but, for me, the promise of lifelong love took a backseat to the threat of imminent humiliation. (I’m used to it). “Here we are now, entertain us,” demanded this throng of Pacific Northwesterners….
and the Hops obliged by sending me out on to the field blindfolded, spinning me around in circles, and then leaving me to the mercy of the crowd’s ostensibly accurate “warmer/colder” exhortations as a means to locate some sort of prize box.
Whatever. I didn’t want whatever was in that box anyway. It probably, like, had gluten in it or something.
Not that I had time to be a sore loser anyway, as immediately after my final on-field failure of the season I scurried up to the second level and did a half-inning on the radio with Hops announcer Rich Burk.
Burk is a veteran broadcaster with far more credentials than your average Class A Short Season shot-caller, as, among other things, he served as the Portland Beavers’ play-by-play man until their departure for Tucson following the 2010 campaign. During the half-inning I was on the air we talked about my travels in general and, more specifically, the fact that I suffer from the ceremonial first pitch version of Steve Blass disease. (I felt dizzy throughout, still feeling the effects of my on-field humiliation.)
And that was that. I took a broadcast booth selfie and then commenced to wander about by myself for a bit.
The solo wandering didn’t start off so well, as I ducked in to an upper level bathroom and then left quickly under duress upon seeing a Playtex dispenser. I thought I had somehow ended up in a women’s room, but it turned out that it was a unisex bathroom and, therefore, my gender confusion was unwarranted. Whew! The last thing I need is people starting rumors that they saw Ben’s Biz walking into the ladies room with a camera and a notebook.
Anyway, here’s a picture that I took just outside the unisex bathroom. It depicts right-hander Blake Perry (or at least I think that’s Blake Perry), who never actually pitched for the Hops. But he did pitch for Hops’ predecessor the Yakima Bears in 2011 and 2012, meaning that his Arizona Diamondbacks Class A Short Season credentials remain impeccable.
Wherefore art thou, press box denizens? In line for the unisex bathroom?
The seating bowl below these invisible media members was far more lively.
As I observed last season in Eugene and (especially) Vancouver, the Northwest League is home to some grade-A baseball fans (although, in Vancouver, that would be “grade-eh”).
“Having Too Much Fun May Distract From the Actual Game” went one of the lighthearted stadium signs…
but I found this one to be more apropos.
I’m going to let the Vine do the talking.
Pacific Northwest has great baseball fans. Engaged w/ every pitch, and very loud. https://t.co/Totq9eLzSc
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 11, 2013
But, as with everything else in life, there are two sides to every story. (Also, I have no idea what that kid is wearing on his head.)
Okay, they’re not all great. Leaving tie game in 7th inning. https://t.co/6gDGE9vaEN
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 11, 2013
After following the fair weather fans outside so that I could harangue them further, I got distracted by the public art project that was detailed in Part One of this Hillsboro blog series. It looked more beautiful at night, because everything does.
Interactive artwork Hillsboro Hops https://t.co/uDdUCBp95u
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 11, 2013
I made it back inside in time for “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” which is sung nightly by Burk while leaning out of the press box (he used to do the same while broadcasting at Portland’s PGE Park).
Not the best angle, but Hillsboro Hops seventh inning stretch led by broadcaster Rich Burke most enthusiast… https://t.co/qLBYc7qbF9
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 11, 2013
The stretch is followed by the House of Pain parody “Hop Around,” in which Barley and game day employees lead the crowd in, yes, hopping around. My attempt to document said hopping on this particular evening was a failure.
But the Hops players didn’t join me on board the failure train, however, as they scored three runs in the seventh to secure a 6-3 victory over (didn’t) Tri (hard enough) City. A word to the wise: once a Hops game ends, wait a few minutes before trying to exit the stadium. Otherwise you’ll end up in an agonizingly slow line of disproportionately white-haired people.
Now, under normal circumstances, the post would end here. But these are not normal circumstances, as I attended the following afternoon’s game as well. This was my final day at the ballpark, not just of this road trip but of 2013 overall, and it turned out to be a beautiful afternoon.
On the way into Hillsboro Ballpark I put together a whimsical signage Vine:
Signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs Hillsboro Hops https://t.co/moVQzMho2V
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 11, 2013
Upon arriving I conducted a couple of interviews that would eventually form the basis of THIS STORY about the farcical events that surrounded the first home run in Hillsboro Hops history. One of those interviews brought me down to the home dugout.
Seeing that Hillsboro logo reminds me that, somehow, I never visited the team store during my two days at Hillsboro Ballpark. The Hops were the number-one selling team on the Minor League Baseball merch charts at the time that I visited, thanks to an enthusiastic reception from the local fan base combined with interest nationwide from baseball fans/beer aficionados who were simply enamored with the team name and logo.
The players mingled on the field while the fans mingled out front.
I toe the line when it comes to the gluten-free diet that celiac disease has imposed upon me.
But, this being the Hops and all, I still felt compelled to document their signature Long Ball Ale to an extent greater than I had in the previous post. Therefore, I issued the following tweet:
I’ll buy a beer for first of-age @hillsborohops fan who finds me and asks for one. You’ll be featured as designated drinker in upcoming post
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 11, 2013
Soon enough, a season ticket holder named Dani Mullen approached me and said “So, anyone get that beer yet?” The answer was no, of course, so the beer became hers.
Dani is originally from Fort Wayne (hence the TinCaps t-shirt), but moved to Oregon after 13 years of living in Arizona. She and her husband Allan were fans of Rich Burk when he called games for the Beavers, and she told me that having him here in Hillsboro was “the icing on the cake” when it comes to being a Hops fan. In fact, it was through her listening to my interview with Burk the night before that she knew who I was in the first place.
But anyway, Dani said that the Long Ball Ale was “good, a little bitter, and very hearty. It gets better as you drink it.”
Thanks, Dani, for being the first “designated drinker” in Ben’s Biz Blog history. (Perhaps I can recruit individuals for this position during my 2014 road trips?)
Allan, Dani, and Long Ball Ale:
I made it back to the area behind home plate in time for “Hop Around.”
Post-seventh inning stretch parody at its finest. Hillsboro Hops https://t.co/eGOBFKtpqG
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 11, 2013
And then spent an inning watching the game with Bob Webster, a recently retired Intel employee who is now writing a book on the history of the Northwest League.
Bob, a member of the SABR Bio Committee, encourages anyone with information or suggestions pertaining to NWL history to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Meanwhile, the professionals on the field soon gave way to amateurs.
And that, finally, is all I have to share from the road. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for an offseason of plentiful content (including the 1000th post in Ben’s Biz Blog history).
Until then, goodbye from Hillsboro.
My last stop on this West Coast road trip, and in 2013 overall, was Hillsboro, Oregon. This marked the first time that I visited Oregon since way back in, well, 2012, when I stopped by Eugene and Salem-Keizer on my way into Washington and, eventually, the foreign soil of Vancouver, Canada. But I had a reason to return to this area so quickly, as Hillsboro is home to 2013’s lone new team: the Hops of the Northwest League. The Hops are the franchise formerly known as the Yakima Bears, whom I also visited last season, and while the primary owners and much of the front office staff remained intact these two baseball environments have virtually nothing else in common. Go ahead and contrast this post with the Yakima dispatch linked to above and you’ll see what I mean.
The Hops fill the Portland-area professional baseball void that has existed ever since the Pacific Coast League Portland Beavers departed for Tucson following the 2010 season, and as such the fledgling franchise can draw on a deeply-engaged and (perhaps more important when it comes to long-term success) deep-pocketed fan base. Intel and Nike both have headquarters in Hillsboro, and visible from the stadium are construction cranes working on Intel’s multi-billion dollar research facility. It boggles the mind, really — just a few days ago I had been in Stockton, a city that had recently declared bankruptcy, and now here I was in an environment surrounded by construction projects with 10-digit price tags.
Hillsboro Ballpark is a city-owned facility built within a pre-existing parks and rec complex, and as such the acreage is vast and the parking ample. When I pulled into the lot, the parking attendant would not take my “I’m a member of the media” claim at face value, and waited until I was able to extract a pass from the detritus on the passenger seat floor.
“Okay, that’s good,” she told me. “I had to check, because you could’ve just been a blogger.”
Thanking her for her diligence, I pulled into my space and took in the view.
My first impression was that the structure seen in the above photo was Hillsboro Ballpark. But that impression, like most of the primary variety, was erroneous. That structure was a football field, with Hillsboro Ballpark situated just behind it.
The above two facilities have a symbiotic relationship with one another. The Hops’ primary concession stands — which we shall see in a bit — are located in the football stadium, facing outward toward Hillsboro Ballpark’s third base side concourse.
Getting to the stadium from the parking lot was a bit of a hike, but whimsical signage insured that my spirits remained high throughout the journey.
My walking Cramps dissipated after seeing the ballpark’s Lux Exterior.
Said exterior included this interactive public art project, entitled Barometer.
Per sculptor Devin Laurence Field, Barometer “takes the overall triangular form of the baseball diamond held aloft by columns and illuminated with color changing, sound activated LED lights….Around the sculpture are various ‘instruments’ people can play, a giant horn, a rattle roller, drum sets and chimes that together form a symphony of sounds. When no one is at the park there is no colored light, when there is noise it lights up — the louder the noise, the brighter the light. The art is a veritable Barometer of excitement for the ballpark.”
Soon after arriving I embarked upon a ballpark tour with Hops general manager K.L. Wombacher, who re-located with the team from Yakima. K.L., he’s a serious guy.
On the concourse, K.L. and I soon ran into team owners Laura and Mike McMurray. To say that they are enthusiastic about their new locale would be an understatement. Mike told me that after 13 years in Yakima, Hillsboro seemed like “heaven.”
As mentioned before, Hillsboro marks the return of professional baseball to the Portland area after a two-year hiatus. The below display preserves some of the “final” items in Portland Beavers’ history, thus serving as a bridge to the present.
K.L. told me that while suites were part of the original stadium design, the club instead opted for open air party decks. The Hops’ status as a short-season team played a major role in that decision.
“The weather here from mid-June through September is just awesome, some of the best in the country,” said K.L. “During this time of year, people don’t want to be enclosed.”
The view from the top, game day employees in day-glo.
At this juncture game time was imminent, with Dust Devils and Hops alike gathering in anticipation.
And, hey, look! It’s Barley, the Hops’ mascot. Due to the prohibitions of my gluten-free lifestyle, I had to keep my distance.
Barley is a hop, and the Hops are called the Hops because of Hillsboro’s proximity to some of Oregon’s most bounteous hop farms. (Worth noting, and a bit ironic, is the fact that the Hops’ former home of Yakima was even more plentiful in the hop department.)
It was “Breast Cancer Awareness Night” at the ballpark, and this led to a cool moment. K.L.’s mom, Bev, is a 13-year breast cancer survivor and earlier that day she had been told that she had been selected for first pitch duties. She got a big round of applause, led by her son, prior to delivering the pitch and it was a heartwarming and truly spontaneous moment.
Heartwarming then gave way to plain ol’ adorable, as this young fan swept home plate.
Manager-Umpire relationships are volatile and subject to change at any moment, but at the exact moment in time in which this picture was taken everything was copacetic.
The Hops’ players were more than ready to take the field, save for the guy on the far left who was more into perfecting his Eminem impersonation.
“Come to gluten,” says Barley.
With an ominous cloud looming overhead, Barney and his less-glutenous ballplaying friends stood at attention as we honored our country through the singing of our National Anthem. (The flags were at half mast that day, in honor of a firefighter killed in action in Albany, Oregon.)
The completion of the “Star-Spangled Banner” means that it’s time to play ball. So, with Class A Short-Season Northwest League action as the backdrop, I took a lap of the facility.
One of the first areas that I encountered was Hot Dog Nation, a presumably sovereign entity with non-existent border security. At said nation a standard-issue hot dog costs $3.75, and specialties include the Foot-Long, Hoppin’ Jalapeno, Philly Dog, and Chicago Dog.
The Hops name, when it was first announced, drew acclaim from beer drinkers nationwide. Ale aficionados and IPA artisans alike allowed themselves to imagine Hillsboro Ballpark as some sort of beer drinking mecca, with baseball as the centerpiece of a thriving micro-brew scene. For now, however, the beer selection is modest as just three are on tap.
Two of these three beers are provided by the local BridgePort brewing company: Hop Czar and Long Ball Ale. That latter brew, a light and citrus-y summer ale, was sold exclusively at Hillsboro Ballpark and, as such, is the official team beer. The gentleman working the “Brew Pen” taps was, not surprisingly, biased toward BridgePort products. I repeatedly heard him explain the merits of both the Hop Czar and Long Ball Ale in detail, and then follow up those descriptions with a tossed-off “Or, of course, you could have the watered-down American lager.” (Also known as Coors Light.)
I’ll have more on Long Ball Ale in Part Two of this post (oh, yes, there is always a Part Two), but this lap around the perimeter of the ballpark wasn’t going to walk itself. Time to keep on movin’ on.
A cool feature of Hillsboro Ballpark is that, despite limited room to work with in certain areas, the Hops went out of their way to make the concourse of the 360-degree variety. The right and center field berm area is very narrow, before opening up into a more traditionally vast expanse in left field.
I admired this father and son duo, who were sticking it to the man by watching the game for free from beyond the fence.
The bullpen denizens don’t pay to watch the game either.
As mentioned, more traditional bermage can be found in left field.
At this point I was introduced to Tony Hendryx and Tim Watters. The former, on the left, is regional vice president of Ovations food services. The latter, on the right, is an Ovations operation manager. (Or would that be a “Hoperations Manager”?)
If there’s one thing I learned this season while on the road, it’s that food and beverage guys are way more enthusiastic about their jobs than the average person is about his or hers. These guys were no exception, and Hendryx, an Oregon native, spoke excitedly about how the Hops’ mid-June through September season matches Oregon’s growing season and, therefore, the team makes sure to use fresh, local ingredients whenever possible. (“If we can keep it out of the freezer, we do,” said Hendryx.”)
At this point in the blog post you have probably become accustomed to me introducing the “designated eater.” (You know, the individual recruited to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). But, in this case, “designated eating” was largely eschewed in favor of highlighting two of the Hops’ gluten-free options.
The salmon burger was made of locally caught (never frozen) fish glazed with a brown sugar and garlic powder marinade then grilled and served with fried onions. I wish I had taken a close-up pic of just the salmon, as it was sweet and succulent and one of the best items I had at a ballpark this season. But you get the idea.
And here’s the Cobb salad, with Hendryx explaining that the chicken was from Carlton,Oregon, the hazelnuts grown in the Willamette Valley, the cranberries grown in local bogs and the blue cheese from Rogue River creamery of Central Point, Oregon.
Not that there is all that much competition, but I am going to declare this the best salad currently served at a Minor League ballpark. If you disagree, then get in touch and I will be happy to give your dissent a public airing.
I wasn’t totally alone in my culinary consumption, however. Meet Hops marketing intern Erik Knutsen, who was recruited to serve as a designated eater should the need arise for some designated eating. Knutsen was the most unenthused and underused designated eater in Ben’s Biz history; here he is with a Long Ball Ale that he was wary about drinking given that he was on the job.
“It tastes really good,” said Erik in a deadpan monotone. “Party.”
This party was cut short, however, as I had been recruited to participate in a between-inning contest. The beer, it was abandoned.
Erik and I headed down to the visitor’s dugout area, where I was equipped with a helmet, blindfold, and kneepads. I don’t know the exact name of this game I was going to play, but it bore a strong similarity to that which I made a fool of myself doing in Wisconsin. Basically, an object is placed on the field and I, through the crowd’s “hot” or “cold” exhortations, had to find it.
The sting of Wisconsin-based on-field failure was still fresh in my mind, and I was ready for some Oregon-style redemption.
Except, no. My shot at redemption was postponed due to unforeseen circumstances.
What unforeseen circumstances, you might ask? Well, here’s my answer to that question:
All will be revealed in Part Two of this Hillsboro saga, which, sadly, will be 2013’s final “On the Road” post. We’ll always have the memories.
Well, this is it: after today’s post I am officially out of 2012 in-season content. Be it content supplied by teams or content that I garnered myself while on the road, there just isn’t any more of it left. The next post, whatever it may be, will be covering that which has occurred since the cessation of on-field play.
At this juncture, it would be appropriate to let out a long, terrified scream. I’ll wait.
All that I’ve got left to share is this: an account of my final moments in Vancouver before flying back to the United States. Upon the conclusion of Friday’s “Nooner at the Nat” I had about five hours of free time, and no real idea what to do. And then inspiration struck — I’d hang out aimlessly! So I drove through downtown Vancouver at a snail’s pace (or whatever “snail’s pace” converts to in the metric system) until reaching the glorious swath of public space that is Stanley Park.
This park is huge — larger than Central Park (my most immediate reference point) and boasting approximately 120 miles of roads and trails. Its namesake is Lord Stanley, former Governor General of Canada and, also, the man for whom the Stanley Cup is named.
Lord Stanley sez: “To the use and enjoyment of people of all colours (sic) creeds and customs for all time I name thee STANLEY PARK.”
I’m not really sure where in the park I was. I was just there, and that was the point.
This monument is in honor of the 190 Canadian soldiers of Japanese ancestry who lost their lives in World War I.
This, meanwhile, is a tree.
Water, water everywhere.
Lord Stanley wasn’t the only statue-esque acquaintance I made out there in the park. Here’s one of Robert Burns, “Scotland’s National Bard.”
The plaque reads, in part: “Robert Burns’s sincere desire for friendship and brotherhood among all peoples is clearly shown in his many poems and songs. His poetry and letters, both serious and humorous are worthy of study by those who value liberty and freedom.”
I eventually wandered to the park’s perimeter, which provided a view of the high-rises lurking just beyond the water.
I eventually wandered out of the park altogether, drawn in part by a desire to commune with this public art installation.
These jovial lads of identical height, girth and facial composition could be found at the end of Denman Street. As I had never spent time on a street named “Denman,” ever, in any city, I decided to see what it had to offer. The short answer is that Denman Street had a lot of restaurants, dozens and dozens of them, over the course of many blocks. I was up for a meal, no doubt, but the combination of my gluten-free specifications and being solo on a Friday evening led me to rule out many of the contenders. (Talk about a familiar feeling…)
This DIY establishment certainly looked intriguing…
but in the end how I could I go with anything but the Number One option?
Look…this whole celiac disease thing can be a drag, no doubt, but at the end of the day there are still plenty of options. Within 20 minutes, this wonderful plate of food was presented to me by a personable waitress who I may one day marry or, more likely, will never see again.
Vietnamese pork chops = one of the best dishes on the planet. And anytime a crispy fried egg is part of the entree equation, quality quotient only increases. As for a beverage, I was immediately intrigued by an option going by the name of “Coco-Rico.” When I asked the waitress what it was, she explained that it was a coconut soda.
“A lot of people ask about about it, only the adventurous ones try it,” she said.
As a lover of coconut, adventure and waitresses, I ordered it without delay!
After going number one at Number One (the door in the bathroom said “Door locks automatically (So don’t worry!)”), it was time for my final act as a visitor in the beautiful, seemingly utopian city of Vancouver: more loitering! This time, the location was English Bay Beach Park.
The Bowling Green Cave Shrimp goes international!
I remained on the beach until the sun went down, reading A Prayer for Owen Meany and contemplating scenarios that could result in me starting a new life in Vancouver (very few of these scenarios involved murder, I’m happy to report).
Somehow, I was able to make it from the beach to the wilderness of Stanley Park where my rental car was located.
And that, finally, for real this time, is all I’ve got. The road had reached its nadir. After a long stint of overnight travel I made it safely back to Brooklyn, where, as usual, a very reliable individual was waiting for me.
There’s nothing left to do now but start brainstorming 2013’s slate of Minor League journeys. Please get in touch should you have any suggestions in that regard and — hey! — I really (really, really) hope you enjoyed all of the content that I was able to squeeze out of the 2012 season. This is all a work in progress, as always, but I do my best. Thanks for reading — now it’s time to batten down the hatches here in NYC as Sandy, purported to be the storm of the century, bears down upon us. Good luck, and Godspeed.
The blog post that chronicled my evening with the Vancouver Canadians was the longest such missive in Ben’s Biz history, but that doesn’t mean that I exhausted all of my Vancouver content. Of course not! The game I attended was on a Thursday evening, and I wasn’t due to fly out of the city until Friday night.
And wouldn’t you know it? On Friday afternoon the Canadians were hosting one of their popular “Nooner at the Nat” day games, so back to the stadium I went. Except this time, I opted to stow my vehicle in the public park located across the street. My thinking was that this would start the day off with a different perspective, and as always my thinking was correct.
Queen Elizabeth Park is located at quite a prodigious elevation, and as such it offers some spectacular mountain and city views.
The park’s parking lot is located a proverbial hop, skip, and a jump from the domed glory of the Bloedel Conservatory.
Among those enjoying the view from the top of the park was this bronzed family — note that brother and sister (or at least I presume they are brother and sister) are both wearing vintage Great Adventure shirts.
I was sorry to leave my statue-esque acquaintances, but baseball was calling my name (in a shrill, unnecessarily loud falsetto). As I walked down the hill and toward Nat Bailey Stadium, I came across a species of tree which may or may not be indigenous to the wilds of Vancouver. This tree was getting a kick out of using its snout-like appendages to tickle the undercarriages of unsuspecting passersby, but when it tried that on me I was ready with a swift uppercut and it shrank away in defeat.
Back on the street, cars were lined up at the stadium entrance. Vancouverites are serious about their Friday afternoon baseball!
However, I soon realized that “Nooners at the Nat,” while a great name, is a bit misleading. Gates open at noon, yes, but the game doesn’t start until one. It was around 12:30 when I arrived on the scene, and no tickets whatsoever were available. Just read the sign!
I mingled with the masses for bit, in the hopes that someone would recognize me and that I could then claim to be “internationally famous.” But, no, it was not to be. (I remain only nationally famous, and by “nationally famous” I mean recognized at a bar this one time and by a concert merch table this one other time). With delusions of grandeur squashed, as they quite mercifully always are, I made my way into the stadium in time for the National Anthems (this is Canada, after all). Performing both anthems was a group called the “Altar Boyz,” and as one of the groundskeepers near me noted “That’s Altar Boyz with a zed.”
As you may recall, my experience at the previous day’s Canadians game had provided some quite memorable food experiences (in the form of an oversized corn dog and an even more oversized “Fungo Dog,” click on the link at the top of this post to read all about it). But this time around, I was interested in trying some ballpark sushi.
While not at the standards one would expect from one of Vancouver’s many fine sushi restaurants, this was still a tasty and unique ballpark meal. The Fuji Combo on the left consisted of two California rolls, two spicy California rolls, two shrimp nigiri, and one smoked salmon. The Red Dragon Roll, meanwhile, was salmon, seaweed, crab extract (not sure what that means), and cucumber.
Oh, and this marked the first time I’d ever had ginger and wasabi in single-serve condiment packets. What a life milestone.
New online dating profile pic:
Thumbs up for the best sushi in the Northwest League!
It was a beautiful day. The game? It was underway
As I had done the evening before, I then hitched a ride in the Smart Car for a lap around the infield.
I filmed said lap around the field with my handy FlipCam, but you know what? It just didn’t come out very well. So, nevermind. Let’s move on.
The Canadians’ dancing grounds crew, whom I had performed with the night before, are bonafide Vancouver celebrities. By the time I returned from my Smart Car journey, they were engaged in an interview with a national sports broadcast (who would later film their dance performance as well).
At this point in the afternoon, I was feeling good. The previous evening’s ballgame had provided me with all of the content I would need from Vancouver (and more), so there was nothing that I felt I HAD to do. I just took in the scene.
Much of the sold-out crowd was lurking in the shadows.
The evening before I had been a Sushi Race competitor. This time around I just took it all in from the cheap seats.
I then adjourned to an even more elevated vantage point: the roof.
On the roof is where the press box is situated, and its denizens were hard at work.
Did I mention that it was a beautiful day, and that Vancouver is a stunningly beautiful city?
Vancouver is also filled with stunningly beautiful dancers — of both the grounds crew and dugout Chicken Dance variety.
I eventually clambered down from the roof, in order to procure a new vantage point from which to snap a photo.
The Canadians bullpen is located down the third base line, and there is no escape from the fans whatsoever (note the standard-issue pink backpack down there by the catcher’s knee).
Unceremoniously and without warning, my “Nooner at the Nat” photos ended here. The above shot of a brooding bullpen observer is the last picture from a ballfield that I am able to post from the 2012 season.
Upon the conclusion of the contest, I returned to the manicured splendor of Queen Elizabeth Park.
And…scene! But would you believe that I have one more post’s worth of material to share from Vancouver? It’s true! Just one more, and then my 2012 road trip content is finally, officially, mercifully, complete Thanks for tolerating my continued attempts to milk it for all it’s worth.
We have now entered the month of October, and in the world of MiLB.com this means one thing: it’s MiLBY season! For those who, somehow, inexplicably, are unaware, the MiLBYs represent our annual attempt to create order from the chaos via an online vote that will determine the top players, plays and promos of the season that just was.
The MiLBYs are a present-day concern, but here on the blog the endless summer of 2012 remains the fixation. Today marks the first in a new series of “Return to the Road” posts, in which we return to the Pacific Northwest for all of the non-ballpark content that’s fit to print from my August road trip. That particular trip began on a Saturday in Eugene and when you’re in Eugene on a Saturday then what better thing to do than visit the Saturday market?
The Saturday Market runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in downtown Eugene, from April through November. Approximately 300 vendors sell their hand-crafted and oft-edible wares, and a loose bohemian vibe prevails. Some scenes from the market:
Roasting some chili peppers. This would be a great ballpark snack, right?
The highlight of the Saturday Market wandering was meeting Bag Man, who seeks to eradicate that which he is composed of. It’s a great cause!
Also wandering about the Market was Eugene Emeralds general manager Allan Benavides and his family. They suggested a stop at the iconic Voodoo Doughnuts, which got its start in Portland and now has a Eugene location located right next to Ken Kesey Square.
The menu is rated PG-13, as double entendres abound.
Good things come in pink boxes, they say.
But none of these good things, not a single one, was gluten-free.
Therefore, I outsourced my doughnut eating duties to Benavides and his son Christian. On the right there is the bacon maple, one of Voodoo’s most famous offerings. Christian opted for some sort of Froot Loops-enhanced creation.
Next door to Voodoo Doughnuts is the aforementioned Ken Kesey Square, which pays tribute to the counter-cultural icon and long-time Eugene native. The Eugene Storefront Art Project had set up shop here, raising awareness of their mission to place short-term exhibits in empty Eugene storefronts.
Later Benavides and I took a quick drive through Eugene’s eccentric Whiteaker neighborhood.
I stared at this for 3.5 hours.
Our final destination was Civic Stadium, which was built in 1938 and first hosted Minor League Baseball in 1955. The Emeralds played their last season there in 2009, and since then the facility (which is owned by the Eugene school district) has fallen into a considerable state of disrepair. Its future is still very much in doubt, although there is a dedicated “Save Civic Stadium” volunteer group working diligently to find viable 21st century options for the old park.
Civic Stadium is located in a residential neighborhood, and many fans used to simply walk to the game. The Emeralds’ move to PK Park, which they lease from the University of Oregon, therefore represented a remarkably different ballpark experience (Benavides’ first season with the team coincided with the move to PK Park, and it has been a considerable challenge to acclimate the team’s fans to this totally new Minor League reality).
Our access, it was restricted.
The playing surface has clearly seen better days.
Behind the stadium lurks a beautiful view.
And if you’re lucky, you may get a glimpse of some truly alternative forms of transportation. (You just gotta love Eugene. I was only there for two nights, but in that time became completely accustomed to seeing quirky people doing quirky things. It’s just how that town rolls.)
So, yeah, that’ll do it for all of my content from Eugene. The next morning I left this small metropolis and its outsized eccentricity and set out on the road to Salem, OR. Shortly into this journey, I became enamored with the following dining establishment.
This place had a powerful aesthetic appeal, but I did not eat there as it was very crowded on a late Sunday morning and I always feel very self-conscious eating at crowded restaurants by myself. But just down the road there was a Mexican joint!
Thank goodness for Mexican restaurants. In this gluten-free reality in which I find myself, they have proven themselves to be an ever-reliable culinary option. This plate of food, I salute you:
Next up in this “Return to the Road” series: a day of stunning natural beauty in Oregon, en route from Salem to Yakima.
I’ve been employed by MiLB.com in various writerly capacities for approximately 2600 days, and in that time have produced more content (good, bad and ugly) than I care to think about. But this content, voluminous as it has been and will continue to be, had never included a blog dispatch chronicling the professional baseball scene in another country.
My latest (and therefore greatest) road trip ended with a two-day stop in Vancouver, home of Canada’s sole remaining Minor League entity: the nothing-if-not-accurately-named Canadians. This franchise, occupants of 60-year-old Nat Bailey Stadium, have been members of the Northwest League since 2000 (prior to this they competed four rungs higher on the Minor League ladder, as entrants within the venerable Pacific Coast League). More information on the Canadians’ history and current operation can be found in this effervescently-written MiLB.com piece, which also includes a photo gallery and links to four interviews I conducted while visiting Nat Bailey (including a chat with Minors Moniker champion Rock Shoulders!).
“The pictures, the pictures, why won’t he get to the pictures!” you’re saying at this point.
I hear you:
Nat Bailey (named after the restauranteur/baseball supporter who founded the famous-in-Canada “White Spot” chain) is, in every sense, a classic ballpark. You can tell this even before entering.
I had driven to Nat Bailey immediately after making it into Canada via the Peace Arch border crossing, and therefore hadn’t had a chance to experience even one iota of Vancouver (the iota is the metric system’s smallest unit of measurement). So before entering the facility I did a lap around it, to at least get a small sense of where I was and what it was like there.
Well, first and foremost, it was beautiful.
Nat Bailey is located amidst a residential area, and it sure looks like an appealing neighborhood to call home.
The residents of this neighborhood make ample use of the Hillcrest Community Centre (yes, “centre”, this is Canada) located next door to the stadium.
The smell of chlorine wafts from this building, but serving as a public pool and recreational facility was not its original intent. The Centre was built as the curling venue for the 2010 Winter Olympics! (And, oh goodness, it’s all coming back to me — I actually wrote an article about this when the building was being constructed).
Across the street from this erstwhile Olympic venue is a massive and beautifully maintained public park, which I had the good fortune to explore the following afternoon (more on that in a future Vancouver-based post). If I lived here, I would totally join the lawn bowling club:
At this point my entrance into the ballpark could be delayed no more. And, once I did so, I was greeted in a very hospitable fashion: the front office had devised an action-packed itinerary for me, and as a result this narrative will last a very long time. (That’s fine with me. On the other side of these blog posts lies the unfathomable abyss of the offseason).
After conducting a couple of player interviews, I embarked on a stadium tour with manager of community relations Jeff Holloway. The view from the field:
At the time of its installation, the Nat Bailey videoboard had the second highest definition of any in professional baseball (behind New York’s Citi Field). But the hand-operated scoreboard located just to the right is a relic, as it had originally been located within Seattle’s Sicks Stadium (home of the 1969 Pilots team immortalized in Ball Four).
Within an hour, this sprawling first base-side picnic area would be packed with fans as part of a Thursday evening sellout. Did I mention that it was an absolutely beautiful day?
We proceeded to the concourse, just minutes after the gates had opened and the throngs began pouring in.
You can’t really tell in this picture, but the third concession stand in is devoted to the unassailable combination of sushi and Asahi beer (the combination of a large Japanese population and proximity to water makes Vancouver a premier sushi town).
Oh, look, I just found a picture of what I was just talking about:
Our next stop was this historical concourse display, named in honor of a well-known and loved Vancouver baseball historian/super-fan.
Artifacts, photos, and a team timeline can be found along the walls.
A prominent pair of teammates from Vancouver’s last season in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League:
An early iteration of mascot Bob the Brown Bear, whom I soon ran into out on the main aisle.
Sorry, Bob. I didn’t mean to invade your personal space.
Back outside the stadium, large crowds had gathered as game time approached.
The Canadians are a hot item these days, thanks to a total franchise overhaul that occurred after new owners Jake (no relation to Bud) Kerr and Jeff Mooney bought the team prior to 2007 and installed veteran baseball exec Andy Dunn as president. I was told that fireworks nights tickets go for exorbitant amounts on the secondary market and — hey! — this is something I’d never seen outside of a Minor League park before. A scalper!
My re-entry to the stadium was assured, but not before appearing as a guest on broadcaster Rob Fai’s pre-game show. Here he is finishing up his interview with the previous guest, an ardent C’s supporter who appears at each and every game dressed in full uniform: pitching coach Dave Pano.
There are no pictures of me during my time on the air, but I don’t think this will trouble anyone a single iota. The pre-game show segued nicely into the game itself (it’s weird how that happens), and we re-entered the stadium just in time for the anthems.
Yes, anthems plural. I thought this group did a fine job singing both the “Star-Spangled Banner” and “Oh, Canada.”
Take my word for it.
Finally! Play ball!
The first order of business was to make our way down the third base line in order to experience one of the most, uh, “generously-portioned” food items in Minor League Baseball. Just the sight of it on the grill made the concession workers giddy.
Here’s the menu. Take one guess as to what it could have been.
Not an “Itzakadoozie,” but it was a doozy: the two-foot fungo dog! (But what is that in meters?)
This 24-inch frankfurter is provided by a local butcher, and it’s more than just a novelty: it’s delicious! But, of course, said deliciousness was off-limits to me due to, yeah, the celiac disease. Enter Andrew Forsyth, Canadians media relations assistant and enthusiastic “designated eater” for the evening.
Take it away, Andrew, and gussy it up! He put pretty much every condiment available on that thing:
From there, only one thing was left to be done: Eat It! And Forsyth did so, with aplomb.
But yet another colossal concession item awaited us – the one-foot corn dog. How much is that doggie in the window?
It’s abundantly gluten-ous nature meant that this gluttonous corn dog was, of course, off-limits to me. But nonetheless I took a moment to gaze longingly into (what I assumed were) its eyes, reflecting on the good times that I had once enjoyed with its batter-dipped brethren.
‘Tis better to have loved and lost:
The Canadians’ front office staff was exceptional throughout my visit, both in their dealings with me and (more importantly) the fans in general. It’s an ace operation. But if I had to offer a criticism, it would be this: no one was interested in “designated eating” the corn dog, nor was a designated eater found. The last time I saw my beloved corn dog it was sitting neglected under a table, a tragic ending to a brief but glorious existence:
But life goes on, long after the thrill of food on a stick has gone. The next order of business was to join sales and community relations coordinator Vanessa Williams during her daily Smart Car drive around the perimeter of the playing field (this is a sponsored promotion).
This was our view, as we waited for a third out that seemingly never came. I’m not sure if the corn dog had already been removed from the table at this point, or if was simply obscured by the (soon to be dancing) members of the grounds crew.
The Smart Car journey is full of peril, and Williams approached her task with a pragmatic and world-weary stoicism. This was her burden to bear and, come what may, she’d deal with it.
The visiting Boise Hawks seemed to be friendly enough fellows.
Fortunately, we weren’t hit by any wayward balls to the backstop.
The Canadians bullpen showered the car with sunflower seeds (Williams has learned to keep the drivers’ side window up).
Along the warning track, we reached speeds approaching a blazing 40 kilometers an hour.
Check out the view!
And, finally, there were the cackling wiseacres of the Boise bullpen. They had partially barricaded the mound with trash cans, but Williams eluded these obstacles with ease.
Upon the completion of this circular journey, there was no time to reflect on what had occurred. Like a politician running behind schedule, I was quickly whisked away by my overseers. We rushed through the concourse and into one of the best lairs that I had the good fortune to spend time in this season.
A mascot lair!
The partially costumed individual seen above would soon transform into Chef Wasabi as part of the Canadians’ nightly “Sushi Race.” I, meanwhile, was to be Mr. Kappa Maki. Before continuing, I’d like to make a few announcements regarding Ben’s Biz procedures from here on out:
New Blog Policy Alert: From the moment I put a mascot head on, that mascot is referred to in the third person and not as “I.”
New Blog Policy Alert II: Out of respect for the mascot community, I will no longer run dressing room shots of the disembodied heads and strewn-about suits of a team’s primary mascot(s). “Racing” mascots will continue to be depicted in various states of dismemberment, however.
We may now proceed. Here I am in proper Mr. Kappa Maki attire, sans head.
You gotta love Mr. Kappa Maki, as he projects a perpetual glazed lasciviousness (must be the effects of the seaweed). I imagine him sounding like an Asian Pauly Shore.
Side profile, limbs emerging from the avocado.
The action shots from the race didn’t come out too well, but all that you really need to know is that Mr. Kappa Maki overcame an early lead held by Ms. B.C. Roll and emerged triumphant.
Ain’t no thing, bros. Ain’t no thing
Mr. Kappa Maki was feeling A-Okay en route back to the lair.
But Maki’s mellow was harshed right quick, after coming face to face with this once back in the lair.
Back in civilian clothing, I returned to the ballgame and immediately became intrigued by this increasingly overburdened Boise Hawks coach (who I have not been able to identify). He had about three pairs of batting gloves stuffed in the front of his uniform, elbow guards on both arms, and a stopwatch. He was the most cyborg-esque first base coach I had ever seen.
But, of course, I had other business attend to — for the first time ever, Vancouver’s elite crew of dancing grounds crew members were welcoming a guest dancer. And this dancer, he was me.
This would be my second time engaging in dancing grounds crew antics (last season, I danced to “Party in the USA” while in Fort Wayne with the Tin Caps), and this time around the grounds crew in question picked an even easier song to dance to: “Apache.” The moves I had to memorize were as follows:
gyrate to the front/left/back/right/front, then jump, then spin with right hand circling in the air
We rehearsed these moves in the grounds crew storage area:
I should have gotten a non-performance shot of the grounds crew, as they were a very friendly and laid-back group of individuals. But thanks to Tom Archibald, Dylan Marsden, Trevor Sheffield and Connor Merillees for letting me crash their scene for an evening.
We had some time to kill before our moment of on-field dancing glory, so I amused myself by taking pictures of good ol’ number 14…
and here’s Boise slugger Dan Vogelbach, taking in the action with bat in hand.
And then — showtime! It wasn’t until later that I realized I had mistakenly walked backwards through the entire routine.
Airborne! (just barely)
And, would you believe it? Video exists of the entire routine! So here ya go:
Afterwards, I was thoroughly exhausted.
But no time to rest! Still wearing my ill-fitting borrowed grounds crew shirt, I was hustled over to the third base dugout to do the “Chicken Dance.” This familiar ritual is led every inning by dance master Hans Havas, an ebullient usher who has been part of the Nat Bailey experience for the past 32 years.
And, okay, fine. There’s video of this too. I was paired with a food service employee who seemed to be a Chicken Dance veteran (I forget her name, but remember her smile.) On the video you can hear fans taunting Vogelbach regarding his love of chicken, and this was par for the course for the Boise first baseman. I saw him play in both Yakima and Vancouver, and in both places he was given a really hard time because of his rotund body type. It didn’t seem fair.
Finally, it was time for a breather. Seeking a brief respite from public interaction, I retreated to the ballpark’s top row. What a sight to behold:
Another sight to behold was that which can be obtained from the stadium’s roof, upon which lies the press box.
One denizen of said box was Boise Hawks announcer Mike Safford.
I, along with Halloway (ever the accommodating tour guide) were on the roof during the seventh-inning stretch. And — wow! — Canadians fans are really enthusiastic singers. This video quality might not be great, but for the record I’d like to say that this was the best rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” that I’d ever heard at a Minor League ballpark. I almost shed a tear.
Back down on the concourse, I met a couple of these enthusiastic individuals. This is Steve Mezzomo, the preeminent supporter of Canadians fan favorite Balbino Fuenmayor (Fuenmayor, 22, has somehow managed to play six Minor League seasons already. The last three have been in Vancouver).
Mezzomo (who, while spelling his name, said “zed-zed” as Canadians are wont to do) said that he and his two boys were immediate Fuenmayor fans, and that making the shirts “just seemed like something fun to do with the kids.”
“The first day we wore the shirts, we saw Balbino and said ‘What do you think?’ said Mezzomo. “His mouth just dropped, and he wanted to take our pictures. Then, during the game the batboy ran over and said ‘Balbino wants to see you.’ He gave us a game bat. He’s such a great great guy; every time he has a ball he throws it to me. I almost feel bad.”
And here’s another individual who spells his name with a “zed-zed:” Joe Frizzell a Vancouver baseball lifer if there ever was one.
Frizzell grew up right by old Athletic Park, where he served as a sort of jack-of-all-trades.
“I did everything around the ballpark,” he said. “Batboy, operating the manual scoreboard, ballshagger, and then I finally got into selling tickets.”
This experience came in handy, as from 1951-56 Frizzell worked at Nat Bailey Stadium as what he calls the “game day manager” for the Vancouver Capilanos (a team named after a brand of beer). On a day-to-day basis, Frizzell played a key role in running the club. And now here he was, some six decades later, taking in the action as the Canadians dropped an 11-5 decision to Boise.
Where does the time go? Next thing I knew, the fans were filing out and the grounds crew was doing work on the field in a much less rhythmic fashion than before.
And with that, this dispatch from Vancouver finally, mercifully, concludes. It took me 2600 days to get to Vancouver, and 2600 words to write about it. But, sometimes, a single picture can say so much more. This was one helluva night at the ballpark.
Yesterday’s “ribbeting” narrative from Everett ended where such Biz Blog narratives often do: with the evening’s ballgame having just begun. I spent the first couple of innings with the AquaSox “Frog Squad” game day promo crew, overseen by director of community relations Katie Crawford and fronted on the field by the esteemed Mr. Schuyler Muller.
Upon the conclusion of the top of the second inning, I was among those assigned to toss t-shirts to the crowd. My area of operation was directly behind home plate, which requires innovative wind-up techniques in order to insure that the shirt makes it over the net.
A far more memorable endeavor occurred one inning later, when I suited up as “Frank” in the nightly “Waddle Race.” This is the continuation of new ballpark tradition for me — dressing up as a food product that I can no longer eat due to my recent celiac disease diagnosis.
I become that which I cannot consume!
Frank has been a staple of the Everett Memorial Stadium experience for years, but apparently his appearances have become increasingly rare. While waiting to appear on the field, I learned that Frank was, truly, a processed meat product in demand. I signed several autographs for enthusiastic fans, feeling the whole time as if I was failing them because my “signature” was terrible. It is very hard to use a Sharpie when it is gripped through ill-fitting slippery red gloves!
One woman, in particular, was a rabid Frank fan. As soon as she spotted him she ran over, offered a big hug, and then had me sign two balls, a hat and a stuffed Frank doll. Clearly, this was a moment she had been waiting for. (And, clearly, I am currently confused as to whether I am writing in the first or third person).
As for the “Waddle Race” — I’d definitely never seen the likes of this before. It was a relay race, featuring two teams of two, in which participants had to run while gripping a baseball between their legs. If the ball was dropped along the way, the contestant had to spin around twice before proceeding. Frank was assigned the second leg of the race, alongside a competitive Dad with a prominent calf tattoo.
When Frank received the ball from his teammate, he had a healthy lead over the opposition. The hand-off:
But keeping a baseball between such slippery uniform fabric was hard work, and Frank’s progress toward the finish line was slow.
Okay — pause! Do you remember when I was at a Jackson Generals game earlier this season, and participated in a Fruit Race? My camera mysteriously stopped working during the race, with this damaged photograph followed by a series of “file not found” blank images.
At the time, I offered the following theory to why this had occurred:
My camera loves me…and was probably dismayed to see me demeaning myself at a Minor League ballpark yet again. Its malfunction was a protest of sorts, motivated by a desire to only document me at my best.
I am now convinced that this theory is true, as this damaged “Waddle Race” photo was followed by another series of “file not found” images. Unpause!
So, what happened the rest of the way is that Tattooed Dad overcame Frank’s lead and coasted to victory. In my opinion, this was because Tattooed Dad was wearing shorts. It is much easier to sandwich a baseball between bare skin than it is to do so with polyester pants. Please trust me on this!
But, anyway, my camera malfunction continued throughout the following between-inning contest. Muller the MC, who was already in his golf clothes, donned a green jacket and narrated the “Three Stroke Golf Challenge” in suitably hushed tones. It went off really well, and the success of the “Three Stroke Golf Challenge” was par for the course for the AquaSox. They have a creative slate of between-inning contests, and aren’t afraid to take risks. If you work for a team and feel that your operation might be getting a little stale in that department, then I’d suggest stealing some of their ideas.
Around the fifth inning or so I joined up with fourth-year employee Alex Baker, now a Frog Squad member and marketing intern, and the two of us went on a daring journey behind the outfield wall.
This mysterious area led to a mysterious alcove.
I was briefly tempted to plunge the entire ballpark into darkness…
But, instead, I just kept on walking until we reached our final destination: a lair!
And not just any lair, but the lair of the manual scoreboard operator. A grounds crew employee named Steven Cook resided therein, dropping numbered slats of wood into their appropriate holes.
Somewhere along the line, this list of rehabbing Seattle Mariner players morphed into a list of AquaSox scoreboard operators. What’s the difference, really?
I enjoyed my time in this lair, as I enjoy my time in all lairs. But there was more to see, and more to do. Back amongst the public, I snapped this shot of what the scoreboard looks like from the stands.
A brief stop back in the promo pit proved that all was copacetic; a typical scene consisting of dice-sitting employees in plastic hats with a cross-legged amphibian adjacent.
So Baker and I continued to our next destination — the “Frank’s Loaded Dogs” concession stand.
While I could not consume Frank in his full form, I did order a “Webbly’s AquaDog” sans bun.
Very tasty, yes, but in this anecdote I am a peripheral character. Upon meeting Baker earlier in the evening, he had earnestly inquired whether or not I had found a “designated eater” (i.e. one who is ready and willing to “take a gluten-filled bullet” on my behalf).
I replied that “No, I had not” and he quickly assured me that he would be up to the task. And, boy, was he ever. Baker chose the “Build Your Own” option, and after a bit of trial and error he concocted the following: Hebrew National frankfurter with mac and cheese, bacon, pulled pork, onions, jalapenos, cheddar cheese and bbq sauce (and probably more, there was only so much room in my notebook). I have multiple pictures of him posing with it, because he kept adding things to it.
But, throughout, the smile remained consistent.
The final product, which Baker dubbed the “Ultra-Dog.” It was, truly, a work of art.
We retreated to the picnic area down the first base line. Members of the Yakima bullpen were completely oblivious to the culinary history that was taking place just behind them.
I daintily approached my dinner.
While Baker’s approach was anything but dainty. I mean, he just devoured that thing.
Baker’s take on the “Ultra-Dog”: “Delicious! The flavors balanced each other perfectly — it was spicy, savory, and had a little tang from the onions. And then the hot dog brought it all together, serving as the backbone, if you will.”
At this point it was the seventh inning, and I was struck by a crazy idea — how about sitting down and watching the baseball game?
The fans engaged in an enthusiastic rendition of the seventh-inning stretch, which warmed my heart.
But, of course, I almost immediately forgot about my plan to just watch the game. In the eighth inning, it was time for “Garbage Gremlins.” I had never seen such a thing! Anyone who desired was invited to grab a (sponsored!) yellow trash bag, in order to collect garbage from the stands. All who did so received “AquaDollars” that could be redeemed at the ballpark, with the individual collecting the most trash receiving bonus AquaDollars (I forget just how many AquaDollars were at stake, so let’s just say “$850,000”).
Garbage Gremlins in action! Refuse to lose, there’s refuse to gain!
But this was no garbage time ballgame, and the hometown team emerged triumphant.
Frank approved the outcome.
You’d think that at this point it was time to call it a night, except no, it’s never time to call it a night when on these trips. Acting on a tip I had received earlier, I proceeded past out-of-uniform AquaSox autograph signers in search of a significant historical marker.
In the dark Everett night, it took me a while to find what I was looking for.
But, finally — success!
That square plaque on the bottom right commemorates the approximate landing spot of Ken Griffey Jr.’s first professional hit. I’ll let the plaque do the explaining (cigarette butt included to provide a sense of scale).
A unique bit of baseball history, and the icing on the cake to one of the most enjoyable and diverse “on the road” experiences that I have ever had. These days, I am constantly asked “You travel a lot. What are your favorite ballparks to visit?” Well, Everett Memorial Stadium is way up there, ranking with other 2012 favorites such as the Daytona Cubs and Arkansas Travelers. Great ballpark, great staff, great logo, great food — I’d highly recommend visiting should you ever get the chance to do so.
But, c’mon guys, you need to invest in at least one more letter “a.” An upside-down “u” doesn’t quite cut it…
The 2012 Minor League regular season may have reached its conclusion within that subjective sliver of reality known as “the present, ” but here on the Biz Blog it’s still going strong! This post documents the penultimate stop of my Pacific Northwest road trip, when I navigated my rental car into an objective sliver of reality outside of Everett Memorial Stadium in order to enjoy an evening with the AquaSox.
This facility, owned by the local school district, is one of the most unique that I have ever visited. It’s shoehorned in next to the school district’s fairly massive athletic arena, and idiosyncrasies abound. In some areas of their operation the team has very little room to maneuver, in others the reverse is true. You’ll see what I mean once I get to the pictures — that’s why you’re all here, right? To see pictures? Words are immaterial; my reason to exist is to indulge this mania for the image.
Here’s Everett Memorial from behind, close to where I parked my rented vehicle.
From there, one follows the curved pathway seen above into a rather charming stadium entrance way. (And given that the AquaSox have a frog for a logo, the sign seen below should read “Regulations pro’ribbit’ food or beverage from being transported into park.”)
As is almost always the case, my first order of business was to conduct some player interviews. To do this, I hooked a right and ascended a steep pathway to the players’ secluded clubhouse castle.
Once I made it to the top (no oxygen tank for me!), there were two competing vantage points. Actually, strike that, everything should be in harmony: there were two complementary vantage points. To the left, one can see Everett Memorial Stadium peeking out from beyond the track that encircles the high school athletic field.
To the right are the stands from which teenage gladiatorial combat can often be viewed. In the absence of such spectacle, AquaSox players use this as an area of respite. Perfect for private phone calls:
For several years the team has filmed an informative, loose, and always funny video series entitled “Meet the AquaSox.” They are very well done, and provide a template for other teams to follow. Therefore, I wasn’t surprised that the interviews I conducted were imbued with a similarly fun spirit. These guys know the drill. (More on these interviews, and links to all of them, can be viewed HERE.)
The standout interview was one that I conducted with Dominic “The Godfather” Leone and Blake “Flacco” Hauser. They are members of the “Nasty Boys” bullpen crew, and toward the end of the interview they were joined by several of their relief corps comrades. (Right before I took this shot, they had re-iterated amongst themselves that a strict “no smile” policy was in effect.)
But as soon as I took the shot, it was observed that fellow “Nasty Boy” Oliver “Boca” Garcia was in the immediate vicinity. His teammates yelled to him that his presence was desired, so he high-tailed it over from the stands.
Garcia (whose nickname of “Boca” means “mouth” as in “he has a big mouth, literally”) didn’t smile either.
Interviews complete, it was now time to enter the stadium proper. This view right here, this is more or less the inverse of the first photo in this post.
The promotion team’s base of operation is located down the third base line. There, one found the tools of the trade stacked up and ready to go.
Further promo props could be found in a stadium storage room, including three strollers that are sometimes used for a between-inning Baby Race. The AquaSox got the idea to do a Baby Race after seeing the Trenton Thunder’s version featured on this blog — I am very proud to be playing a role in the spread of Baby Races across the land!
I had remarked earlier that, in some ways, the AquaSox have a lot of room to move. The following array of pictures should illustrate what I mean — the team’s concourse area is adjacent to another high school athletic field, giving fans plenty of opportunity to spread out should they desire to do so.
I’ll revisit the concessions a bit later on in the narrative, but please let it be known that there are a wide variety of options.
Including, yes, a Chowder Bowl combo.
The AquaSox are limited in their alcohol distribution methods due to their school district overseers. This, right here, is the only place in which it can be found.
The doubly-alliterative “Coca-Cola Picnic Pavilion” doubles as the AquaSox batting cage, leading to the occasional day game conflict between early-arriving picnic-ers and players trying to get some extra work in.
The view from this multi-use pavilion is a vast expanse of greenery.
But there were no player-fan scheduling conflicts on the Wednesday evening in which I was in attendance. These two distinct ballpark species were intermingling as I made my way over to the outfield berm.
The young fans seen below weren’t interested in displaying suite emotions, so they walked this way to a bermanent vacation. (And, next time they go to a Mariners game, they’ll be back in Seattle again).
The G.H. placard is in honor of slain Mariners outfielder Greg Halman, who began his professional career in Everett. (My feature on Halman, written shortly after his death, includes quotes from AquaSox announcer Pat Dillon).
The view from the berm, shortly after the gates had opened.
Back on the concourse, I ran into Everett Memorial Stadium’s most famous denizen: Webbly! Truly, he is one of my favorite costumed characters, just a toadally cool dude.
At this point I had a choice between going on to the playing field or visiting the press box. I chose the ladder option, and boy was it steep!
This ladder leads to the roof, where a game-day employee dutifully records the game. It offers a very nice view.
In the off-chance that you ever view a game from this location, be aware that foul balls rocket up here with a startling velocity.
After taking in a few more vantage points, I began my descent…
first to the press box…
and — finally! — the field.
Copious signage around the ballpark is a fact of Minor League life, as it accounts for a sizable revenue stream. Sometimes said signage is a garish mish-mash of images, but in the case of the AquaSox it is an aesthetic triumph that enhances an already appealing ballpark environment.
On the field, good ol’ number eight was dutifully signing autographs.
But most uniformed personnel were socializing with individuals representing a local branch of the Special Olympics.
Representatives from the Special Olympics spent much of the evening engaged in an awareness campaign. Their mission was to “Spread the word to end the word.”
I joined the cause, and wore this bracelet around my weak-limbed blogger’s wrist.
The word that the Special Olympics are seeking to curb the use of is “retard,” which, as I’m sure you know, is freely tossed around as an insult. Being someone who, literally, obsesses over words, this is an issue I’ve often thought about. In many cases I’m against heavy-handed attempts to restrict the use of potentially offensive words because doing so paradoxically lends more power to the words in question, but I’m completely in agreement with the Special Olympics on this one. The pejorative use of “retard” is ignorant and careless, and those employing it in that context should be aware that it is both uninformed and disrespectful.
(But, again, I know that you’re not here for words of any type! I’ll do my best to limit their usage in the future.)
With the game about to begin, a spur of the moment request was made of yours truly: would I be interested in doing the pre-game introductions of the AquaSox starting nine?
Of course! I never say no to what is asked of me. And by doing so, regular on-field MC Schuyler (pronounced “Skyler”) Muller would have more time to luxuriate in his own resplendent glory.
Okay! Here we go! There wasn’t really time to get nervous while doing this, and a feeling of power emerged with the realization that, as soon as I said a player’s name, he popped from the dugout and ran to his position. It was like I was commanding them.
I allowed myself to go off-script just once, referring to second baseman Brock Hebert (pronounced “A Bear”) as “number one in your hearts.” But, beyond that, it was a simple case of reading words off of a piece of paper.
My moment of on-field tyranny was short-lived, fortunately, as it quickly gave way to the National Anthem (not that I was asked, but singing the National Anthem is one of the few things I refuse to do at a ballpark. A kazoo rendition? Maybe.)
And, with that, the game finally got underway. This shot shows “number one in your hearts” at the plate while good ol’ number eight looks on.
There’s still much more to come from Everett, but it took me 1500 words to get this far and, therefore, you know the drill: Stay tuned for part two!
Note: It took all of my willpower not to reference my favorite GNR song of all time in this post’s title.
I visited six teams on this most recent road trip, and five of these teams were members of the aptly-named Northwest League. The one anomaly was the Tacoma Rainiers, who compete in the inaptly-named Pacific Coast League (unless you consider locales such as Memphis and New Orleans to be part of the Pacific Coast).
The Northwest League is Class A Short-Season, comprised of players just beginning their professional journeys. But the PCL is Triple-A, just one level removed from “The Show,” and the mentality of fans, front office staff and players at this level is markedly different.
So I knew going in that the Rainiers would be a whole ‘nother animal, operating on a totally different scale than the likes of Eugene, Salem-Keizer, and Yakima. These differences rang loud and clear as soon as I checked into the team hotel, which offered BY FAR the swankiest (and most self-consciously post-modern) accommodations I’ve ever enjoyed whilst on one of these road trips.
That’s room 2306 (!) of the Hotel Murano, and this was the view:
I’ll have more on the Hotel Murano in an upcoming “Return to the Road” post, but for now let’s get to the evening’s primary locale: Cheney (pronounced “Cheeny”) Stadium, home of the Rainiers since 1961 and the recent recipient of a massive renovation (read all about that, and more, in last week’s MiLB.com piece). After getting lost on the way to the stadium (which happens regularly, even with GPS) I arrived at a parking lot which placed me in the rear of the facility.
Unfortunately the above entrance, neatly carved into the landscape, was not the one for me. “Will Call,” world-famous home of the media pass, was at home plate and thus began an arduous journey. Along the way I saw the back end of the stadium’s famous batter’s eye — located a staggering 425-feet from home plate and one of the few features of the old Cheney that survived the renovation intact.
Along the road I came across a species you rarely encounter in the Minors — the ballhawk. These guys were doing their darndest to snag batting practice home runs.
Finally, parched and hallucinating, I arrived at the front entrance. I can’t say for sure what those satellite dish-looking obelisks are above the sign, but they are a publicly-funded art project (Cheney’s renovation was partially funded by public money, and with this came the stipulation that it be decorated with public art).
First order of business was, as it often is, to conduct a few interviews with the good ol’ Flipcam. While waiting for my victims to emerge, I took a few shots of the dugout surroundings.
I interviewed Danny Hultzen first, an affable young TOP PROSPECT who has been a member of the Rainiers for less than two months. (I had actually been in attendance for his final Double-A start, when he took the mound for the Jackson Generals during my aptly but inelegantly named “OKARKMOTN” road trip). This was followed by a clunker of an interview with Italian-born third baseman Alex Liddi, in which I led off with a question about a ridiculous article I wrote about him back in 2006.
Nick Franklin was next up, who I wanted to talk to simply because I’d already interviewed him in High Desert and Jackson. But Franklin, now hip to the awkwardness that ensues whenever I roll into a Minor League dugout, never emerged. He was “busy.” That’s okay, Nick. I was busy, too — taking pictures of scintillating light pole signage (as an aside, those antiquated light fixtures are originally from San Francisco’s Seals Stadium).
I would have relished the opportunity to ketchup with Franklin, so its too bad that he never mustard the initiative to speak with me. Instead, I joined up with director of communications Ben Spradling for a pre-game ballpark tour. Post-renovation, Cheney Stadium is a dramatically different place than it was. Examples of creative re-invention are everywhere.
This berm area, sponsored by Alaska Airlines and featuring blinking blue airport runway lights, used to be comprised of bleacher seating.
This “Backyard BBQ” area was once a batting cage.
And what was once the visitor’s clubhouse is now a secondary ticket office.
Next to this structure is a new group area called the “Home Run Porch,” which sits level with the playing field.
Spradlin and I soon made our way back to the main area behind home plate, where we took the elevator to the topmost floor (otherwise known as the “third”). Once there, he opened an imposing metal gate (with the power of his mind) and we ascended up a darkened stairwell.
This camera well area, not open to the public, has been dubbed “The Bird’s Nest.” The view (and note the batter’s eye, some 425 feet away):
Also offering a prime view is the “Summit Club,” a season-ticket area that was packed with fans eager for some pre-game food and, especially, beverage.
The Summit Club offers views of, appropriately, a summit: Mt. Rainier, for which the franchise is named.
Okay, well, it would have been a great view of Mt. Rainier. But, unfortunately, on the day I was in attendance the mountain was completely obscured by the clouds. I never did get a proper glimpse of it, but such is life.
Doing my best to let go of feelings of disappointment regarding view obstruction, I stopped into the press box just as the game was about to begin (that’s Spradling, my tour guide, in the middle).
As always, the press box was the place to be if you’re a fan of sardonic, quick-witted banter. (Sample bit of dialogue: “Tonight’s ‘Play Ball Kid’ was pretty good. Yesterday’s asked for his line.”)
But with the game now underway, I felt a restless itch that only wandering can scratch. So off I went — to wander! The concourse, although not of the “open” variety, is very spacious. Although this picture was taken later in the evening (My beloved chronology! Ruined!) it does help to illustrate the overall feel of the place.
One of the evening’s promotions was “Firefighter’s Night,” as members of local departments had been invited out to the ballpark. One crew even drove out in this beautiful antique:
Around the bend from this cherry-red beaut was another stadium feature that had survived the renovations intact: the Tacoma Baseball Hall of Fame.
A more poignant (and noticeable) tribute to Cheney can be found in the seats behind home plate (and slightly up the first base line). A bronzed Cheney can be observed watching the game, surrounded by a small section of original blue stadium seats.
While I was taking pictures of Mr. Cheney, an usher approached and drew my attention to the ground in front of him. There, embedded in concrete, was one of Cheney’s peanut shells.
Meanwhile, PCL baseball was breaking out all around us. The view from the top (note the steep pitch of the seating area, a Cheney staple).
New seats, original grandstand.
The Rainiers hit something like 11 home runs in the second inning, en route to a seven-run frame (you do the math). Exhausted by the offensive outburst, I went back down to the concourse in search of sustenance.
Oh, hey, it’s Rhubarb!
I decided upon the Narrows Catch stand — while there were some seafood on offer (almost always a good thing) the necessity of obtaining a gluten-free option led me to go with what had become a theme on this trip: hot dog, sans bun.
“The Best Hot Dog in Baseball,” to be more specific.
I dressed it up with condiments as well as I could — and it was a very tasty hot dog — but even considering that a bun is usually involved here this seemed like a small amount of food for $7.
While ordering the hot dog, I noticed that the next stand over offered gluten-free Grist Mill beer. Finally, my first chance for a celiac-friendly beer at a Minor League Baseball game!
I’ve gotta say, what followed was a very frustrating experience. I ordered the beer, and even though the menu placard directly behind the woman at the register listed Grist Mill I was told that “We don’t serve beer here.” She then pointed toward all the other places in which I could get beer, apparently not realizing that Grist Mill was only offered in one place and that, if you’re ordering it, you’re doing so for a reason. So I went back to Narrow’s Catch, where I had ordered my hot dog, and was told that Grist Mill was only available at the next stand over — where I had just been! So I went back there, but to a different register, and now the beer was magically available. Except, no. “Sorry, sir,” I was told. “We don’t have a bottle opener.” This was followed by a shrug of the shoulders, as if to say “And we’re not going to look either.”
Disillusioned, I retreated to a concession stand on the other side of the concourse and got some fries. Those were good.
The evening slowed down a bit at this point, giving me the time to appreciation this high-resolution scoreboard graphic. Konrad Schmidt: a Sal Fasano for a new era.
Meanwhile, Mr. Cheney had found some company.
This game turned out to be a blowout win for the Rainiers (seven-run second innings often lead to such things), but the visiting Reno Aces weren’t completely lifeless. Here’s Josh Bell, in the midst of a leisurely home run trot.
I made one final concessions stop, at this popular and distinctly Pacific Northwest eatery. Baked goods and high end coffee at the ballpark!
I ordered a mocha (for whatever reason, that was my coffee drink of choice throughout the trip).
Throughout the ballgame, firemen (the evening’s guests of honor) had comprised the majority of the between-inning games and contests. Most of these games were quite simple (trivia, push-up contests, etc) and conducted from the top of the dugout by ebullient MC Christy Magana.
Although not a firefighter (at least not in this life), I was asked to be a contestant in a between-game at the end of the seventh inning. I can’t remember what the game was called, specifically, but it was of the standard “Sing for Your Supper”/”Finish that Tune” variety.
Knowing that my pipes would soon be on display in front of thousands, I retreated to the top of the stadium and practiced a bit.
For those who’ve never done it — being alone in a strange place and knowing you soon have to entertain a crowd with some off-the-cuff stupidity can be a bit nerve-wracking. I’ve done it enough where I’m no longer really nervous, because the number one takeaway is this: In the best way possible, it just doesn’t matter. You can do (almost) anything you want, and it will be fine. Don’t think.
Blogger in need of a makeover, reporting for duty.
The song was “Billie Jean.”
I adopted a falsetto, and then realized I didn’t really know the lyrics. The combination of the ridiculous voice, awkward pause, and mangled lyrics (“I am the one! (pause) I have a son!”) got a surprisingly strong reaction from the crowd. As much as I look like (and am) a doofus, I like the below picture because Christy seems genuinely amused by my idiocy. What can I say? As much as I’m a very reserved person overall, in these sort of situations I really enjoy making people laugh.
That’s enough narcissism for now, and there’s not too much else to report. The game ended unceremoniously, and upon its conclusion I snapped a few pictures of my new interview-avoiding nemesis Nick Franklin. You can never escape the all-seeing eye of Ben’s Biz! (For the record, I have no real issue with Mr. Franklin).
On my way out, I documented some glow-in-the-dark stadium art. Publicly funded! This one is called “Home Run.” The artist is David Franklin (no relation to Nick), and the medium is powder coated aluminum LED RGB fixtures.
All that was left for me to do was to drive upstream back to my place of lodging. The Hotel Murano, its day-glo “M” beckoning from on high, awaited!