Results tagged ‘ On the Road ’

Return to the Road: Wanderin’ ‘Round in Richmond

It’s time for another installment of “Return to the Road,” in which I document the non-ballpark wanderings that occurred during my 2015 road trips. I’ve already chronicled my experiences in Florida and the Midwest; now it’s time to move on to my late June trip to Virginia (and the state west of Virginia. I forget what it’s called).

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I arrived in Richmond on the evening of June 24, having driven there from good ol’ NYC (where the cost of living is totally reasonable and never causes me angst). Before heading to The Diamond for the June 25 Flying Squirrels game, I had a little time to poke around. And when I poke around, I inevitably end up at a record store.

First up was Deep Groove.

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Deep Groove was a small, all-vinyl spot. If I recall correctly, I bought the recent reissue of Guided By Voices’ classic Bee Thousand album. I also recall that on the counter, under glass, was a great assemblage of Richmond-area concert ticket stubs spanning the last three-plus decades. One of the stubs was for a D’Angelo show that had taken place the previous week; this prompted me to tell the clerk that I had seen D’Angelo play in Queens just three days prior.

“That’s tight,” replied the clerk, who was completely disinterested and also young enough to use “tight” as a synonym for “cool.” I left the shop feeling like a pathetic old dude, but then I started thinking about this D’Angelo song and the pep came back into my step.

I then pep-stepped, feeling not at all dyspeptic, to bustling West Carey Street. I believe that the locals call this neighborhood “Carytown.”

IMG_1431Would you believe that I ended up at another record store?

IMG_1433Plan 9 was much larger than Deep Groove, and far more ramshackle. There was a little bit of everything. It was tight.

IMG_1432Usually, when on a road trip, I bring along three CDs I haven’t listed to and listen to them three times each. I should probably be diagnosed with something. But on this trip I had forgotten to bring any CDs, so I went ahead and bought a few at Plan 9 so I could listen to them in the car for the rest of the trip. My new acquisitions were Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard “Django and Jimmy,” AC/DC “Rock or Bust” and Shamir “Ratchet.” I also picked up a used copy of Don Cherry’s “Eternal Rhythm” on vinyl.

All right, enough with the record stores.

Please note that, at this moment in time, the Byrd Theater was showing Insurgent and Get Hard. I don’t know anything about either of those movies, but they seem unbefitting to a theater of such age and (assumed) grandeur.

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I also enjoyed wandering through Chop Suey Books, which had multiple levels and many rooms. This photo was taken on the second floor, where I found (and bought) a used paperback of Damon Runyon short stories.

IMG_1435WonTon was indeed resting in his natural habitat.

IMG_1436Early the next afternoon, before leaving Richmond for good, I returned to Carytown and got lunch at the Daily Kitchen. Three side dishes make a meal!

IMG_1476I wasn’t dining alone, for the Daily Kitchen is not the type of place in which I would eat alone (it was crowded and chic, so my self-consciousness levels would’ve been through the roof). My companions were Richmond Flying Squirrels broadcaster Jay Burnham and his Trenton counterpart, Adam Giordino. Jay used to work in Trenton, and Adam was the one who replaced him.

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Richmond Gourmands

It was cool spending a couple of hours with those guys, which included a brief automotive tour of Richmond courtesy of master chauffeur Jay Burnham. But all good things must come to an end, and thus I was soon on the road to Norfolk with only a new CD to keep me company.

In Norfolk, the next post shall begin.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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Return to the Road: Record Stores and Rest Stops in the Midwest

The previous post in this “Return to the Road” blog saga covered the first half of my May 2015 trip through the Midwest. This post finishes the job, detailing my non-ballpark wanderings as I moved from Peoria to Cedar Rapids to Des Moines to Omaha.

midwest_final_61t5gp7uI arrived in Peoria on the night of May 25 and thus had some free time in the early afternoon before attending May 26’s Chiefs game. When I have a small window of free time in a city that I’ve never been to, I find a record store to visit. It’s just what I do, as I’m a creature of habit.

This is Ribbon Records, a hybrid record and vintage clothing shop which, according to this blog post, is in a building formerly occupied by Murray’s Department Store.

IMG_1292The hours of this place are kind of spotty, but luck was on my side. May 26 was a Wednesday.

ribbonRibbon Records had a lot of used records, as well as books, DVDs and random cultural ephemera.

IMG_1291At Ribbon Records, the stacks were alive. I ended up buying a small pile of albums, four of which I can recall immediately at this moment.

Richard Pryor: “Wanted” (he is a Peoria native, after all)

Hank Williams: “Sings ‘Kaw-liga’ and Other Humorous Songs”

Motley Crue: “Too Fast for Love”

Nancy Sinatra: “Movin’ with Nancy”

That Nancy Sinatra LP is produced by Lee Hazlewood, and if you ever see Nancy and Lee’s names together on the same album then do not think. Just buy!

The only other things I can tell you about my time in Peoria, outside of the ballpark, was that I ate lunch at Lorena’s….

IMG_1293…and, afterwards, got unreasonably excited when Eminem came on the radio.

IMG_1294On Thursday, May 27, I drove from Peoria, Illinois, to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Along the way, I picked up the necessary provisions.

It is obscene how much I enjoy pork cracklins.

IMG_1295I also bought “Warheads Sour Dippin’ Pucker Packs,” simply because I am always on the lookout for Fun Dip derivatives.

IMG_1290I’m not sure where the following photo was taken, but clearly it was a beautiful day in which to loiter at a rest stop.

IMG_1296A rest stop is one thing, the “World’s Largest Truckstop” is another. How could I not visit?

IMG_1299I can’t verify the “world’s largest” claim, but there is no doubt that this truck stop was gigantic. This picture doesn’t do it justice, as this place was too big to be encompassed by a single photo.

IMG_1301I strongly considered buying a T-shirt as a means to show off my vague awareness of nature and Native American culture.

IMG_1303Instead, I bought this four-CD set:

IMG_1304The cover art is inexcusably awful, but this is a well-curated and thoroughly enjoyable set of ’50s, ’60s and ’70s truck-drivin’ country songs. “Giddyup Go, Daddy.”

I spent the evening of May 27 with the Cedar Rapids Kernels, leaving the city early the next morning. Cedar Rapids, I hardly knew ye.

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IMG_1324May 28 was devoted to an Iowa Cubs matinee in Des Moines and then an Omaha Storm Chasers game in the evening. The next morning, before flying out of Omaha, I stopped at Almost Music. I somehow failed to take a photograph of this establishment, so here’s one from the Yelp page.

oAlmost Music, while small, was well-organized and featured a lot of off-the-beaten path kind of stuff for the heads and weirdos in your life. I picked up an R. Stevie Moore record (“Delicate Tension”) as well as a CD from local emcee Macey Yates (I had asked the guy at the counter to recommend an Omaha artist completely removed from the Saddle Creek universe).

And then? Then I went home. There are a lot of things I like about living in New York City, but you don’t get to see nearly enough bird’s nests. Thanks, Midwest, for the memories.

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benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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Return to the Road: Bouncing Between Illinois and Iowa

Earlier this month, I wrote a series of “Return to the Road” posts detailing my non-ballpark experiences during April’s trip to Florida. Today, I’ll move on to similar material, this time centering around late May’s quick jaunt through the Midwest.

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May 23 was a whirlwind — an early flight from NYC to Chicago, an extremely long wait for a rental car, a quick hotel check-in and then a jam-packed evening with the Kane County Cougars. It was all a blur, and that feeling persisted into the next morning.

I had no idea which car in the hotel parking lot was mine! I took both of them, just to be sure.

IMG_1222From there it was on to a (rained out) afternoon with the Quad Cities River Bandits, followed by an early evening drive to Clinton, Iowa. At some point during this drive, I took a picture of some amusing rest stop bathroom graffiti. I wish that I could share it with you in full, but this is a family blog (you’re probably reading this with your family right now, as Ben’s Biz is one of the few things that unites the average American family in this fractured media age).

IMG_1223Upon arriving in Clinton, I was hungry. And when I am on the road and hungry, I generally seek out one of four (reliably gluten-free) options: barbecue, Mexican, Vietnamese or Buffalo Wild Wings.

Clinton, a factory town, came through on the Mexican front. This restaurant, as you can see, was in close proximity to a smoking lamppost.

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Despite an 80 percent ingredient overlap from dish to dish, El Tapatio had a menu whose length was roughly equivalent to that of the Old Testament.

IMG_1235I don’t remember what I ordered, exactly, but it was, essentially, steak and eggs and rice and beans. Fundamental. (In the below photo, note that I was still reading an Athlon baseball preview magazine in late May. Those things take me forever to get through, as I am one of those obsessive types who reads every word of every page.)

IMG_1236The next morning, May 25, I drove to Clinton’s Eagle Point Park and took a stroll.

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002While I had less than an hour in which to wander around the premises, I’m glad that I visited Eagle Park. If you should ever be in Clinton, to see the LumberKings or otherwise, then I suggest that you do so as well. The park overlooks the Mississippi River, which, as it runs past Clinton, is at one of its widest points.

IMG_1241I would have liked to meditate in this location for upwards of three hours, but, as always, duty called. Soon enough, I was on the path back to reality.

006Reality remained a whirlwind, but on the way to see the LumberKings I took the time to pull over and take a photo of Snodgrass Motors.

IMG_1254This brief pit stop was motivated by then-Richmond Flying Squirrels (and now Virginia Tech) broadcaster Jon Laaser, who consistently paid tribute to pitcher Jack Snodgrass via creative use of the “word” Snodgrass.

One of many examples.

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After witnessing a Memorial Day doubleheader in Clinton, I drove back to Quad Cities and caught the second game of the River Bandits’ doubleheader against the Chiefs. From there, it was time for a nighttime drive to Peoria so that I would be well-positioned to see those very same Chiefs the following evening.

The second — and final — entry of this Midwest-based “Return to the Road” saga will begin in Peoria. We’ll see how it plays.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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Return to the Road: From Parts Unknown to Five Points

Part One of this Florida-based “Return to the Road” saga covered my non-ballpark wanderings in the general area of Bradenton, Tampa and St. Petersburg. Part Two focused on my visit to Minor League Baseball headquarters in St. Petersburg. This, Part Three, covers the final section of April’s trip through the Sunshine State.

We begin on April 15, when I visited — you guessed it — a record store. This one is located in the greater Palm Beach area, but here’s the thing: I no longer remember where, exactly, I was or what this record store was called. I’m sure a helpful reader — most likely Ed Pelegrino — will soon fill me in.

IMG_0923This particular record store was quite expansive. I got a copy of Sparks “A Woofer in Tweeter’s Clothing” for, like $7 bucks. Great deal, and if you’re a fan of Sparks then you’re a friend of mine. I also bought “Use Your Illusion II” on CD, as part of my ongoing effort to own all Guns N’ Roses albums in all formats.

Fascinating stuff, right? The next several days, as I made my way through Vero Beach, St. Lucie and Brevard County, are similarly bereft of non-ballpark related materials. At one point I went to a Vietnamese restaurant in St. Lucie and was dismayed to find that their pork chops were off the bone and of a weirdly pinkish hue.

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I do remember that, after attending April 18’s Brevard County Manatees game, I was craving Buffalo Wild Wings. The closest one was, like, 20 miles away, so I called in my order and then made the drive there on Route 95. When I got there, my order wasn’t ready and, in fact, they hadn’t even started it yet.

But all’s well that end’s well. On these road trips I’m overwhelmed with details and often lost within my own manic mind, and sometimes a meal like this in a hotel room represents the pinnacle of relaxation and luxury.

IMG_1027I mean, just look how happy I was.

IMG_1028After eating my dinner, I found this Man of Steel Blu-Ray underneath a chair. I did not take it, because I do not know what a Blu-Ray is, and superhero movies are uniformly terrible (there are no exceptions to this rule).

IMG_1029Nonetheless, I was inspired to go out into the lobby and create a superhero of my own. I am Feline Man, who travels with his trusty sidekick, Cobra Guy, fighting bad guys up and down the dangerous back roads of Brevard County.

IMG_1025The following day, April 19, was one of the busiest and multi-faceted days that I enjoyed while on the road this season. I got up bright and early and got on good ol’ 95, barreling toward Jacksonville. As I did when en route to Pensacola in 2012, I stopped at one of the infinitely appealing roadside tourist traps.

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IMG_1031Florida citrus —  believe the hype! It is remarkable how much more flavor it has, when consumed at peak freshness. And there is a variety beyond what one can find at grocery stores in other parts of the country.

IMG_1032In the early afternoon, I arrived at Jacksonville’s Budweiser brewery.

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Why was I here? Because there is a reason for everything.

The night before, while emailing Suns staff about logistics related to my imminent visit, Suns box office manager (and seamstress!) Theresa Viets said I should stop by the brewery’s parking lot food truck fest if I had the time.

IMG_1036I enjoyed a typically healthy road trip lunch…

IMG_1037…but food wasn’t the reason I stopped by. Theresa’s recommendation was based on the fact that Grandpa’s Cough Medicine, one of her favorite local bands, was playing.

IMG_1034Early afternoon on a hot summer’s day is definitely not an ideal time for a band like Grandpa’s Cough Medicine, whose incredibly adept bluegrass blazers are best suited to late whisky nights. But, regardless, I was amazed at how good these guys are; incredible finger-picking skills, clever and often darkly humorous lyrics and an innate chemistry that can only be honed by playing live on a regular basis.

Here’s the title track off of their latest album, which I bought right after they finished playing (to a disinterested, sun-baked audience). I mean, my goodness. This band deserves a much wider profile.

I still had about two hours before my scheduled arrival at the ballpark, so I drove from the brewery to Jacksonville’s Five Points neighborhood.

IMG_1055Five Points is named for the Five Points intersection, which, as its name suggests, represents the confluence of five roads. This is not a good photo, but here you go.

IMG_1041I parked on a nearby residential street, who knows where, and walked past “Troops of Time” en route to bustling Park Street. I really should have gone inside. Despite being a longtime Martika fan, I’ve never visited a toy soldier store.

IMG_1039Prior to my trip, Jacksonville native (and current Charleston Riverdogs operations director) Philip Guiry sent me an email extolling the virtues of the neighborhood. It read, in part:

5 Points, just north and west of downtown and The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, has Deep Search Records, a bar called Rain Dogs, a weird beer/misc. store called Cask, another bar called Starlight, I think? And a dope movie theater (Sun-Ray), a one screen joint with beer, pizza, indie movies, live shows, and Hollywood movies, too.

It also has Wall Street, which is my favorite dive in Jax.

IMG_1042The Sun-Ray Cinema:

IMG_1045I really enjoyed poking around Fans and Stoves, which was filled with all manner of interesting cultural detritus. I walked out of there with some old postcards and a vintage MAD magazine.

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IMG_1046Deep Search Records:

IMG_1051It was National Record Store Day, so Deep Search was hopping. I bought the recent double LP reissue of the Melvins “Lysol” and “Eggnog”, as well as Dio’s “Sacred Heart” on cassette.

IMG_1053And, though the date had passed, I was happy to see this flyer on my way out the door. Go see the Baseball Project live. They’re great.

IMG_1054And, well, that’ll do it for my “Return to the Road” recap of April’s trip to the Sunshine State. Stay tuned for similar material throughout the remainder of the offseason. You’ll be glad you did. Or at least I think you’ll be glad. Who really does know? I sure don’t.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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Return to the Road: Spending Some QT at Minor League Baseball HQ

Part One of this “Return to the Road” saga covered my non-ballpark wanderings in the general area of Bradenton, Tampa and St. Petersburg. This post, which I will cleverly refer to as Part Two, picks up right where I left off in, still in St. Petersburg. After a quick stroll through the city’s downtown, I hopped back into the rental vehicle and drove to an unassuming office park. This is the site of Minor League Baseball headquarters.
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I’ve been to MiLB headquarters before, in 2012. The above photo was taken during that visit, which yielded a blog post as well as a MiLB.com article. As in 2012, I spent a nice chunk of time exploring the building’s treasure trove of historical Minor League artifacts. Jeff Lantz, Minor League Baseball’s director of communications, served as my tour guide.

This narrow cinder-block room, fireproof and lined with filing cabinets, gives on an indication as to how player data was stored in the pre-digital age.

009Each index card represents a different player, some of whom you may have heard of.

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007Some of the cards contain a detailed record of the player’s transaction history. I must have taken a photo of this one simply because it was located in the first drawer. John Ackley played seven seasons in the Red Sox system, from 1979-85.

011Above the photo cabinets are bookshelves, lined with vintage baseball guides produced by various entities. I was afraid to touch the older ones, lest they disintegrate in my hand.

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More reading material can be found in the library, which totally makes sense. Shelves such as this might not look particularly interesting, but looks can be deceiving.

013This, for example, is a NAPBL rulebook from 1928.

014“Viz” which essentially means “to wit” or “for example” is rarely used anymore. I think it’s time to bring back the viz!

015This, from 1955, lists the Spring Training sites and hotels utilized by Minor League clubs. Note that Oakland stayed in the “Barbara Worth Hotel.”

017My favorite item in the MiLB HQ library remains the NAPBL’s telegraph code book, which I stumbled upon during my 2012 visit. A brief recap: 
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How it works:

0233Representative text:

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click to enlarge

If time was not of the essence, I would have spent the remainder of the day in the Minor League Baseball library. But time was of the essence, and there was still one more room I absolutely had to visit.

IMG_0901The legendary hat wall, a point of obsession for a certain subset of baseball fans, features the primary hat of all 160 affiliated Minor League teams. The hats are listed alphabetically, and I imagine that since this photo was taken the Hartford Yard Goats and Columbia Fireflies have been added (and the New Britain Rock Cats and Savannah Sand Gnats removed).

With the help of Jeff Lantz, I then produced the following Vine video.

And that just about did it for my time at Minor League Baseball Headquarters, as I was due to catch that evening’s Dunedin Blue Jays game. All I remember about the drive from St. Petersburg to Dunedin was that the weather was bad and the traffic awful.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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Winter Meetings Blog Writer Journal, December 9

Last week, I dedicated my little slice of internet infinity to the recollections and reflections of four Winter Meetings job seekers. This week, I’m provide my own Twitter-centric account of the week that was. It all ends here, with this recap of my third and final full day in Nashville. 

Wednesday, December 9

Wednesday, the third and final day of the Winter Meetings, is always a wild card. There are, of course, places to go and people to talk to, but I generally don’t have plans to attend or cover any one specific event. That was the case this year, but it still turned out to be a supremely busy day. Per usual, I found myself running around like the proverbial headless chicken. What else is new?

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Wednesday morning was given over to Job Seeker Journals blog posts and other such writerly tasks. While grabbing lunch in the Opryland, I ran into Chuck Greenberg (owner of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, Frisco RoughRiders and State College Spikes) and Pelicans president Andy “Milo” Milovich. In Milo’s possession was a recent prized acquisition, a baseball card from 1988 featuring Dave Oster during his reign with the Geneva Cubs. (Oster, now 50, recently stepped down from his position as Lake Elsinore Storm president). The card cost 99 cents on eBay, plus $2.75 shipping and handling, and was the source of much merriment for industry veterans.

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While waiting in line for food, I also ran into Inland Empire 66ers director of marketing Matt Kowallis. I casually asked him how things have been going, standard Winter Meetings small talk, but his somber response quickly busted me out of casual conversation mode. The 66ers are based in San Bernardino, the site of a horrific mass shooting the week prior. For the 66ers staff, and everyone in their community, it was impossible not to feel the heavy weight of the tragedy. The Winter Meetings, meanwhile, are a surreal week-long dose of fantasyland unreality. It felt strange to suddenly be contemplating something so horrific within such an atmosphere, but I wanted to give this topic its due. Matt put me in touch with 66ers general manager Joe Hudson, and a bit later in the afternoon I interviewed him about the team’s response to the shooting for MiLB.com’s “Show Before the Show” podcast. (That episode can be found HERE.)

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Program from vigil held at 66ers’ San Manuel Stadium, in remembrance of shooting victims

As I ate lunch, I amused myself by eavesdropping on Kannapolis Intimidators director of communications Josh Feldman as he reviewed a pile of resumes submitted by Job Fair attendees. (Josh isn’t too impressed with those who note their proficiency with Microsoft Office, as it is the year 2015.)

Okay, what next? Oh, right, a final lap through the Trade Show to say hello to people who I had missed the day prior. But on the way there, I ran into Tyler Glaser. Tyler, who works at Grimey’s, a venerated Nashville record store, served as my designated eater when I visited the Nashville Sounds in August. Prior to the Meetings I had gotten in touch about maybe getting a drink or checking out a show, but this was before I arrived in Nashville and immediately resigned myself to a week of all Opryland, all of the time. At least we were able to chat for a few minutes.

IMG_0783And, hey! There’s Lansing Lugnuts broadcaster/noted author Jesse Goldberg-Strassler, a wise and kind individual whom I had not yet spoken to at this year’s event. I had to have a conversation with him as well.

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Oh, hello

And, oh, right, the Trade Show was still going on, though at this point it was in its death throes. I just had enough time to introduce myself to Rookies app founder Matt Sebek, whose product allows users to create their own baseball cards. It’s pretty cool. And, look, he even created one for me.

IMG_0786That was the tone of the afternoon — one conversation to another to another, all imbued with the sense that time was running out. After meeting with Joe Hudson for an interview on the 66ers’ response to the San Bernardino shooting, I hustled back over to Presidential Ballroom D (my favorite of the Presidential Ballrooms) to meet once again with 2015’s group of Job Seeker Journal writers. We recorded a series of “after” interviews, which were later incorporated into this video.

Finally, I returned to the media room and began work on an article summing up the myriad news and notes from the past few days.

The media room is a strange place to work. As I pecked away at the keyboard, the Cubs’ newest free agent acquisition was introducing himself to the assembled media. We were separated by the thinnest of veneers.

I had a very specific deadline while working on this article. At 6:30, buses would be departing the Opryland for the Wild Horse Saloon in downtown Nashville. This was the site of this year’s Gala, a three-hour party that represents 2015’s final opportunity for large-scale mingling.

Personal arrogance and ego-boosting aside, I have always enjoyed the Gala. The Winter Meetings are chaotic and stressful, but once the Gala hits you can take a deep breath and just be. Enjoy some booze and drinks and be glad to have made it through another year.

And go figure: This was my most popular tweet of the entire Winter Meetings. People love to see the industry get down.

After the Gala, I took a bus back to the Opryland. But most of the Gala attendees must have gone to a piano bar (they always do), because the hotel bar scene was listless and seemed more populated by Major League types. I’ve got no interest in that sort. There was nothing left to do but, yes, write and disseminate another Groundbreaking and Subversive Joke.

I can’t remember the last time I felt so tired. I had no one left to talk to. I could feel myself starting to get sick. But, yet, I kept wandering around, on the lookout for joke material, or whatever flimsy excuse I could make in order to keep the night going. Why do I have these compulsions? Why do I feel that it is mandatory to indulge them? I sometimes feel that there is something wrong with me.

And that was it for the Winter Meetings. I really enjoyed getting to (re)connect with so many people who work in this great business, even if you may not have been entirely sure who I was.

Finally, mercifully, I’ve got nothing left. Here’s to another year of making dreams come true.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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Winter Meetings Blog Writer Journal, December 8

Last week, I dedicated my little slice of internet infinity to the recollections and reflections of four Winter Meetings job seekers. This week, I’ll provide my own Twitter-centric account of the week that was.

Tuesday, December 8

Call it a routine, or call it a rut, but one thing’s for sure: Year after year after year, my Winter Meetings’ experience follows the same basic pattern. Monday is dedicated to a run of programmed events (the Bob Freitas Business Seminar, Opening Session, etc) and then Tuesday is Trade Show Day.

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I have a love/hate relationship with the Trade Show. I love it because it is an awe-inspiring accumulation of vendors who, together, fulfill just about every conceivable baseball industry need. I hate it because I write about it every year and feel like I don’t have anything new to say. Also, it is a thoroughly exhausting place in which to spend an afternoon. Walking down the aisles, one can feel the eyes of the vendors as they look at your name badge to discern if you are a prospective client. It is an environment of subtle glances, awkward smiles and constant surveillance. Kind of like high school.

I began my time at the Trade Show as I often do, by visiting the Lynn University booth and addressing the students in professor Ted Curtis’s sports management program. Professor Curtis does this every year, giving his charges a great first-hand glimpse at the inner workings of the baseball industry. I imagine that it is an invaluable experience for them; through the years I have crossed paths with Lynn students at various MiLB ballparks. Just look at the prominence they have achieved.

Stephen Goldsmith, designated eater, Jupiter Hammerheads 

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Andrew Pollowitz, intern, Potomac Nationals

0195Hey, you gotta start somewhere! Anyhow, thanks to Ted and company for having me out to their booth once again.

As a point of reference, this picture illustrates how much weight I have gained and hair I have grown since speaking to Lynn Students during the 2012 Nashville Winter Meetings.

lynnNext up on the Trade Show agenda was to meet with the lumbering force of nature that is MiLB.com Jack of All Trades Danny Wild. He served as my photographer and videographer for a piece we put together on the Trade Show. You can check it out HERE.

Included within the piece is this video.

Everyone should also be aware of the following piece of information, which is that OT Sports is now hawking officially licensed KISS theme jerseys.

Get ready, El Paso. (Will Eliza”Beth“ton be next?)

After grabbing some lunch and doing some writing in the gargantuan media work room, I was reminded that an election was about to take place. Pat O’Conner was running, unopposed, for a third term as Minor League Baseball president. Always eager to see the democratic process in action, I meandered over to yet another gargantuan ballroom and witnessed a most anticlimactic election. First, each league president affirmed his or her presence during a role call. This same group of circuit overseers then unanimously elected O’Conner to a third term, which begins in January and runs through 2019.

A glimpse of the white-hot parliamentary proceedings:

Then it was back to the media room. Seemingly everyone in there, save for me, was riveted by the evening’s barrage of trades and free agent signings. It began to feel so ridiculous to me, hundreds of people essentially sharing the same information while clamoring to make their “scoop” unique. Possessed of both an absurd and arrogant nature, I started riffing.

Anyone want to chime in here?

Thanks, dude.

After finishing up my work for the day, I was feeling tired down to the marrow of my bones. Also, my stupid new shoes made it so my stupid new socks had bloodstains on the heels due to my stupid old feet. It was time for a brief rest before hitting the late-night socialization scene (a prerequisite of the Winter Meetings experience).

I turned on the TV in the hotel room and began to listlessly channel surf, soon stopping to pause in amazement. None other than Jackson Generals broadcaster Brandon Liebhaber was staring back at me! Was I in some sort of Winter Meetings Twilight Zone?

The show in which Liebhaber — and the rest of the Generals organization — appeared was called I Love Kellie Pickler. Well, I’m here to tell you something, and that something is this: I hate Kellie Pickler. This show was the bad kind of stupid, cloying and condescending and fake (despite being “reality”), and it made me want to emigrate to Canada. Duck Dynasty looks like Masterpiece Theater in comparison. But, in all serious, congrats to Liebhaber and the Generals on the CMT Network exposure. All publicity is good publicity, even when the publicity in question makes one want to pop out their eyeballs with a serrated hotel room entry card (I tried).

With Pickler-rage serving as my energy fuel, I re-entered the Opryland ecosystem and hit the bar scene. It was fun. The Winter Meetings is the only time during the year in which I can walk into a bar alone and know that there will be a lot of people therein who want to talk to me. Usually when I enter a bar alone I make a beeline for the pinball machine and don’t interact with anyone save for the drink-disbursement person situated behind the navel-level wooden barrier.

I was out and about until Semisonic came on over the stereo, but the day’s work is not done until I have written and disseminated a Groundbreaking and Subversive Joke.

Haters are my motivators.

Can’t stop, won’t stop.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

Winter Meetings Blog Writer Journal, December 7

Last week, I dedicated my little slice of internet infinity to the recollections and reflections of four Winter Meetings job seekers. This week, I’ll provide my own Twitter-centric account of the week that was.

Monday, December 7

Monday is when the Winter Meetings begin in earnest. It is also the busiest day of the Meetings, at least as regards previously scheduled events. I began the day in a haze — that’s what late nights at the bar will do to a body — but, nonetheless, I had a plan. That plan was to attend a couple of Bob Freitas Business Seminar presentations.

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Booz: An Appropriate Winter Meetings Sponsor

The Bob Freitas Business Seminar is an annual event, the bulk of which takes place on Monday. Presentations, dubbed “Breakout Sessions”, are broken into five categories — Sales and Marketing, Operations, Licensing and Marketing, Community and Media Relations, and Fielder’s Choice — and run concurrently. When choosing which seminar to attend, I employ a simple strategy: Which one is the most likely to give me something interesting to write about?

Among the 8:30 a.m. offerings, I chose “You’re Still Our Teammate, You’re Still Our Brother: Planning the Announcement of Baseball’s First Openly Gay Active Player.” This presentation dealt with how the Milwaukee organization handled David Denson’s coming out announcement. Denson, who spent the 2015 season with Rookie-level Helena and Class A Wisconsin, became the first active affiliated player to come out as gay.

On hand to talk about the subject was Brewers vice president of communications Tyler Barnes and MLB ambassador for inclusion Billy Bean (not be confused with A’s general manager Billy Beane. Yes, it’s extremely weird that there are two prominent “Billy Bean(e)s within the world of Major League Baseball).

barnes_beanIn the above photo, Barnes is seated on the left and Bean is speaking. This is an apropos image, as the vast bulk of the session was given over to Bean’s re-telling of his own struggles as a closeted player in the 1980s. His story is interesting and important, but by the time he was done there were only about 10 minutes left to deal with the issue of “Okay, how did the Brewers handle Denson’s case?” and “What might your team do when (not if), this story repeats itself?” I left feeling disappointed. This was a timely, worthwhile topic, but attendees weren’t given much pragmatic advice and guidance.

But such is the reality of vast, multi-faceted events such as the Freitas Seminar. They can’t all be winners. Next on the agenda was this:

This session was great. I’d never given thought to this issue before, but Earnell Lucas ably convinced me of its importance. He gave an organized and balanced presentation on the myriad ways in which drone usage can (and will) impact the Minor League Baseball experience. I ended up taking so many notes, and becoming so interested in the topic, that I wrote an article about it later in the day.

I think the article came out pretty well. My photographic attempt did not. My apologies to Lucas (at the podium) and his panelists (Adam Nuse, Jason Compton, Darren Spagnardi).

dronepanelIt was now time for the Opening Session, when the entire industry gathers in a gigantic room.

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Another award-winning photo

The event, as always, was emceed by Iowa Cubs broadcaster Randy Wehofer. As always, League Executive of the Year Awards were distributed and, as always, Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner gave his “State of the Union”-style address. Minor League Baseball vice president Stan Brand also took the podium, speaking strongly against pending litigation that seeks to classify Minor League Baseball players as hourly workers (under this designation, many players make less than minimum wage).

Brand’s stance makes sense from the standpoint that, if Major League teams had to pay Minor League players more, they would then seek to pass off a larger portion of their player development costs on to the Minor League affiliates. It’s simple self-preservation. Nonetheless, it can be difficult to reconcile the reality of the situation — players in search of comparatively modest pay increases — with Brand’s assertion that the lawsuit is an “assault” and that those in the industry need to be “grassroots soldiers” against it. Call me naive, but I’d like to think that there’s enough money to go around.

Also during the Opening Session, the Lucas Confectionery wine bar of Troy, New York was awarded the “OnDeck Small Business of the Year Award.” The Lucas Confectionery is owned and operated by Vic Christopher and Heather LaVine, former members of the Tri-City ValleyCats front office, so them receiving an award from Minor League Baseball marked an improbable return to industry approval.

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Vic Christopher, 2008 MiLB.com file photo

After the Opening Session, most of the industry went on to the Awards Luncheon. I’d seen enough award-disbursement for the day, so I headed back to my hotel room to do some work, as there is always work to do.

Have I mentioned that the Opryland is the most surreal hotel that I have ever stayed in? This is was the view from my first-floor abode, located in the “Cascades” section of the facility.

The benefits of working in a hotel room.

But I wasn’t in the hotel room for long, as my desire to sit in a conference room had not yet been satiated. Next up was this:

I already made a mention of this in a MiLB.com story that ran at the end of last week. An excerpt:

“[Diversity and inclusion] is the right thing to do, but it’s also the smart thing to do,” said panelist Wendy Lewis, Major League Baseball’s senior vice president of diversity and strategic alliances.

Lewis’ remark summed up the prevailing sentiment, as a front office that does not reflect the demographics of its market is, in all likelihood, failing to reach as wide a fan base as possible.

“A more diverse and inclusive front office brings broader experience and perspective,” added panelist Chuck Greenberg, who owns three Minor League teams. “It means that we are far more likely to have insights and sensitivities that benefit our communities.”

I had been especially interested to attend this panel after meeting Vince Pierson (and writing about him) earlier this year. He’s doing good things for the industry.

Sessions, speeches and seminars were finally, mercifully, done for the day. It was now time for more writing, and then dinner with co-workers. This marked the only time that I left the Opryland during my four-night stay, but soon enough I was back in the biosphere for another late night of schmoozing and boozing.

The day ended as all days must end: with yet another groundbreaking and subversive joke.

Yeah, man, I hear you.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

Winter Meetings Blog Writer Journal, December 6

Last week, I dedicated my little slice of internet infinity to the recollections and reflections of four Winter Meetings job seekers. This week, I’ll provide my own Twitter-centric account of the week that was.

The 2015 Winter Meetings were held at Nashville’s Gaylord Opryland Resort, one of the few places I’ve ever been to that fully justifies usage of the word “Brobdingnagian.” I had already attended two Winter Meetings at the Opryland — 2007 and 2012 — so at least I had an idea regarding what to expect. What I expected, and, indeed, what happened, is that I was constantly lost, constantly running into people I knew from within the “industry,” and constantly lamenting the fact that I didn’t break in my new pair of shoes before heading to Nashville. I was like the Curt Schilling of the Winter Meetings, though not as ostentatious.

Due to my procrastination in booking a flight to Nashville, I had to fly out of Newark like some kind of barbarian. Thus, my documentation of the week began with this pithy observation as I made my way to the airport.

Seriously, an automated voice says something along the lines of “We have now arrived at Terminal C, serving U-Netted, U-Netted Express and U-Netted International.” It boggles the mind.

But I arrived in Nashville swiftly and safely, which is all that really matters. A cab driver named Kofi gave me a ride to the Opryland, regaling me all the while with his tales of being a DJ in New York City in the early ’90s. Kofi brought me to the Opryland swiftly and safely and — Bam! — I was suddenly in another world.

To talk about the Opryland is to talk about being lost at the Opryland. There are nine acres in which to roam.

My first order of Winter Meetings’ “Business” was to attend the annual Banquet. Last year I made the mistake of not packing formal clothes for this event (I was the doofus in jeans), but this year I was dressed to moderately impress in slacks and a suit jacket. The Banquet marked the first instance of a strange social dynamic I encounter at the Meetings each year. While I know hundreds of people at the event, and enjoy basking in my quasi-celebrity for a few days, I am generally traveling alone at social events while everyone else is with their “team.” I walked into the Banquet with the strategy that I’d sit with the first person to extend me an invitation. That invite came courtesy of Scott Sailor and his Iowa Cubs cohorts, and to them, I am grateful. I ended up sitting next to I-Cubs broadcaster (and one-time movie star) Randy Wehofer, a consummate pro who I’d love to hear on a Major League broadcast someday soon.

The Banquet was emceed by Cincinnati Reds broadcaster George Grande, host of the first-ever episode of SportsCenter. During his opening remarks Grande had to speak over a large amount of crowd chatter — C’mon, industry, you should have better manners than that — and then brought Commissioner Manfred on stage for an interview.

Soon thereafter, Tri-City ValleyCats owner Bill Gladstone was named 2015’s “King of Baseball.” The King of Baseball wears a crown and a robe, as any king should. These accoutrements are bestowed by Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner.

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There has never been a “Queen” of baseball. Someday?

The highlight of the Banquet, however, was when recently retired Minor League home run king Mike Hessman received a “Career Achievement Award.” Hessman was visibly emotional as he took the podium, and paused for a good 15 or 20 seconds before launching into his speech.

I’m not sure if a full video of Hessman’s speech exists, but at least I was able to capture a little bit of it.

As the Banquet was winding down, I departed the premises and hightailed it over to Presidential Ballroom D to meet with this year’s group of Job Seeker Journal writers (their collected experiences can be found HERE). That’s Will Privette in front. Behind him, left to right, is an increasingly fat Ben’s Biz, David Lauterbach, Tori Payne and Jim Angell. Job Seekers - Group with Ben HillThe purpose of my Sunday evening meeting with this fearsome foursome was to record the “before” portion of a “before and after” video chronicling their experience. I’ll link to that at the relevant time.  From there, it was back out and into the Opryland wilderness.

The Opryland has several drinking establishments on the premises, and I got to know these establishments very well during my four nights in Nashville. The late-night Winter Meeetings bar scene is not just fueled by hedonistic impulse; it is an invaluable resource as a place to network and procure information in an informal setting. And, on an egotistical level, it is great to walk into a bar and have so many people know who I am and want to buy me a drink. This has never happened to me in New York City, and probably never will.

The work day never ends, even when the “work” in question is resurrecting my “groundbreaking and subversive joke” franchise. There’s plenty more where this came from.

There’s also plenty more where this came from.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

On the Road: Father, son and lobster in Portland

To see all posts from my September 4, 2015 visit to the Portland Sea Dogs (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

Embden, a small town in central Maine, is surrounded by the Kennebec and Carrabassett Rivers. The town’s website declares that its current population is an estimated 939 people, who are “proud of our history and optimistic about our future.”

I met two of those proud and optimistic people at the Sept. 4 Portland Sea Dogs game: Erik Carey and his 11-year-old son, Luke.

047Embden is over 100 miles north of Portland; one would think that would be a prohibitive distance for Erik and Luke to travel on a regular basis. But if one would think that, then one would think wrong.

Erik and Luke are Sea Dogs season-ticket holders, who regularly make the long drive to Hadlock Field together.

“My wife has been to one game, my daughter has been to one. I think Luke and I have been to about 30,” said Erik, an eighth-grade teacher with 20 years of experience in the education field.

On these frequent father and son excursions to Hadlock Field, Dad drives while his son reads. These trips are so long and so frequent that Luke was able to read the bulk of the entire Harry Potter series while riding alongside his dad on trips to and from the ballpark.

On this particular evening, Erik and Luke varied up their Sea Dogs routine by serving as my designated eaters (you know, the individuals recruited to consume the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits).

We began at the Shipyard Brew Pen, located at the far end of the third-base line.

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Shortly after we arrived in the area, there was a commotion behind us — shouts, squeals, nervous glances toward the sky and the sound of uncertain footsteps.

A foul ball was headed our way!

Erik dove for cover, but Luke kept his eyes on the prize. The ball bounced off of the asphalt and onto the roof of the Brew Pen, whereupon it rolled straight down and into Luke’s waiting hands.

Congratulations to Luke, the first-ever designated eater to snag a foul ball.

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The Shipyard Brew Pen sells lobster rolls, and when in Maine, you’ve gotta get a lobster roll. Right?

The Sea Dogs’ lobster rolls are provided by Beal’s Lobster Pier.

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Now it was Erik’s time to shine.

“This is pretty good…” Erik began.

“But not as good as my catch!” interrupted Luke, still psyched to have snagged an official game-used Eastern League ball. But back to Erik:

“Uh, um, uh, there’s so much pressure,” he said, searching for a way to describe the lobster roll. “Let me take one more bite.”

043“Does it taste like an egg salad?” asked Luke.

“No…” said Erik, still at a loss for words. He and Luke then commiserated briefly, using teamwork to come up with the following lobster roll description:

“The creaminess of the lobster melds well with the crunch of the bread.”

Erik, like the lobster, was now on a roll.

“The best part is that that the meat is not rubbery, and the sauce, there’s just enough,” he continued. “I’m really getting the lobster taste, not the mayonnaise.”

“Hey, you’re doing good!” said Luke.

“Yeah. Thanks, Buddy.”

For dessert, it was my duty to procure Luke and Erik a Muddy Biscuit from a concourse concession stand such as this.

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New for the 2015 season, the Muddy Biscuit is a chocolate-dipped variation of the Hadlock Field treat known as the Sea Dog Biscuit: Shain’s of Maine vanilla ice cream served between two chocolate chip cookies.

Luke, introducing the Muddy Biscuit:

Like father, like son.

046Luke is no stranger to Sea Dog Biscuits and Muddy Biscuits, estimating that he’d had about “40 or 50” of them this season.

“This makes me sound like a bad parent,” said Erik. “Just wait until Mom reads this. … See, it’s not the cost of the travel down here. It’s not the cost of the tickets. I’m getting crushed by him at the concession stand.”

Luke wasn’t phased by his Dad’s accusations. He was lost in a dessert-based reverie.

“Would you say that the cookies and the ice cream complement one another? I’d say they do.”

“I don’t know,” replied Erik, before deciding that Luke’s Muddy Biscuit hypothesis was dead on. “It’s the perfect combination of a baked good and ice cream. Separate they are awesome, but when you put two great things together, you can’t go wrong.”

This sounded like an analogy for the father-and-son relationship — “When you put two great things together, you can’t go wrong.” Seeking to give Erik a rare upper hand in the dialogue, I asked Luke, “On a scale of 1-10, how thankful are you that your Dad takes you to these games?”

After much hemming and hawing, Luke grudgingly replied “10.”

“See, he doesn’t want to say anything nice about me,” said Erik. “Because he knows that I’ll remind him at the most inopportune moment.”

Note: My 2015 “On the Road” blog posts and articles are now finished. Thanks to everyone who followed along, and please feel free to get in touch any time about anything. Now the offseason truly begins. I’m going on vacation.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

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