Results tagged ‘ On the Road ’
One more time, with feeling!
In other words, it’s time for November’s third and final “Return to the Road” installment, in which I highlight that which was experienced above and beyond the ballpark during my road trip travels. The first post covered May 8 and 9th in Bowling Green and Nashville, and part two involved the events of May 10th and 11th in Nashville, the Smoky Mountains, and Asheville. Which brings us to, yes, May 12th.
I woke up early in Asheville on this fine Sunday morning, after attending a Tourists game the night before that was eventually covered HERE, HERE, and HERE. (Thirsty Thursday origin story!) I woke up so early, in fact, that I forgot to do the obligatory road trip hotel room review and thus had to improvise.
Road trip hotel review, Sleep Inn, Asheville. https://t.co/iMZJSkdqFK
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) May 12, 2013
The inability to “Sleep Inn” was because my next destination, Savannah, GA, was over four hours away and I was scheduled to attend a Sand Gnats Mother’s Day matinee at Grayson Stadium that began at 2 o’clock. The only documentation that I possess of this journey is this rather underwhelming photo of Talmadge Memorial Bridge.
Underwhelming photo, perhaps, but the bridge is anything but. Named after Georgia governor Eugene Talmadge, it connects downtown Savannah with Hutchinson Island and spans a distance of two miles. The Talmadge is imposing and picturesque, and it makes one’s entryway into Savannah proper a truly memorable experience. It astounds me, however, that what is surely the most iconic structure in a city with a majority black population is named after a politician who viciously and unapologetically espoused racial hatred and exploited racial tensions.
There’s really no way to smoothly segue from the above sentence, so I’m not even going to try. I crossed the bridge, attended the Sand Gnats game (read all about it HERE! And HERE!), and after the game found myself in a bit of a quandary in that was early evening on Mother’s Day — not exactly the best time for a traveling gluten-free Minor League Baseball writer to do a bit of exploring and socializing. Savannah’s waterfront downtown area was packed, and I simply drove along the cobblestone streets at about one mile an hour with absolutely no idea regarding what it was that I was looking to accomplish. I snaped a few underwhelming photos out of the driver’s side window and then got out of Dodge as quickly as I could.
My lack of a plan and general feelings of alienation from the scene around me put me in a grumpy frame of mind.
So I did what I always do in these situations: went to a diner, ordered steak and eggs, and then brought a stash of pork cracklins and Mello Yello back to my hotel room to serve as writing fuel. It was a beautiful night.
But frustration continued to follow me the next day, eventually catching up with me somewhere between Savannah and my next destination of Augusta. My problem was that it was lunch time and in the breaded and fried deep South it can be difficult to stay true to the gluten-free diet that a battery of medical professionals have insisted that I follow.
I was hungry and not seeing many viable options along whatever lonely stretch of road that I was on, so when I spotted a sign advertising one “Bay South” restaurant I figured I may as well roll the dice and give it a try. At the very least I’d be supporting a humble local business as opposed to a monolithic chain entity doing its part to further exacerbate America’s descent into corporatized homogeneity, and that’s half the battle right there.
The restaurant didn’t have a menu, just a small board listing the day’s specials. I was hungry, and as a stranger in a strange land I was feeling a little self-conscious and didn’t really want to give the waitress a spiel regarding my dietary needs. I simply ordered the pork chop special with field peas and stewed tomatoes and hoped for the best. This is the platter that soon arrived:
Don’t get me wrong — that’s a good looking plate of food, and in my pre-gluten free days I would have devoured it without a second thought. But that pork chop was heavily breaded, the peas were in a thick sauce that likely used flour as a thickener, and bread crumbs were mixed in with the tomatoes. The piece de resistance in this fete de gluten was the cornbread, which is to the South what pickles are to a Jewish deli.
“I made my bed, now I’ve got to lie in it,” was the thought that went through my head, so I went ahead and ate the whole plate of food. And, no surprise, it was delicious. I experienced no side effects from this major diet deviation, as I am an asymptomatic (or “silent”) celiac. It’s weird — in a way I almost wish I had symptoms, because the debilitating short-term side effects of eating gluten would serve as a safeguard against the long-term bodily damage that occurs as a result of “cheating” episodes along the lines of that detailed above (which I really don’t do very often at all).
But enough gnashing of teeth, as tautologically speaking celiac disease simply is what it is. I’m just trying to articulate the tortured mental gymnastics that accompany most restaurant meals these days, as these minor setbacks within a life of immense privilege really take a lot out of a guy!
And speaking of immense privilege, the next stop on my itinerary was none other than this esteemed locale.
I arrived at this legendary expanse of greenery with one Chad Walters, an Augusta resident and founder of Lean Blitz Consulting (who served as Designated Eater at that night’s GreenJackets game). Chad kindly spotted me a set of clubs, and I strode toward the entrance gate all like “Oh, no big deal, I’m here every day.”
I’ve actually never played golf in my life, and in one of the most predictable outcomes of all time I was turned away by a guard who denied Chad’s requests to take a picture. Whatever lurked beyond this road way was going to remain a mystery.
Desultory contemplation complete, this Augusta excursion ended with a walk down the surprisingly pedestrian (but not pedestrian friendly) pathway that separates Augusta from the strip mall homogeneity that surrounds it.
Fortunately, Chad had one more Augusta landmark to show me and this one was far more accessible. We drove into downtown proper and, after taking advantage of the ample parking opportunities, made our way to this location.
Yes, that James Brown. The Godfather of Soul! Presiding over all that he sees!
Brown was not an Augusta native, but he did spend his formative years here. Per the plaque that resides at the base of the structure, Brown “has called Augusta ‘home’ since moving here when he was five. It was in Augusta’s Lenox Theatre that he first received recognition for his talent by winning an amateur contest.”
Perhaps the James Brown’s of tomorrow are honing their chops at downtown Savannah’s I-3000 Club, although the focus there seemed to be more on adult entertainment.
After that it was goodbye downtown Augusta and hello GreenJackets. (I wrote about that ballgame HERE and HERE, as I am wont to do.) The next day it was on to Birmingham, where I closed out this trip by attending two games at the Barons’ new home of Regions Field. (Check it out, if you are wont to do such a thing.) My time in Birmingham yielded two blog posts and two MiLB.com features, virtually exhausting all of my Dream City content, so all that I have left to share is this: before leaving for the airport, I stopped for a meal at the Birmingham BBQ institution that is Dreamland BBQ.
I patronized the 14th Avenue South location, which is located in a rather residential area.
The majority of the patrons on this Tuesday afternoon were sitting in the booths…
but given my lonely traveler status I opted for a seat at the bar and promptly ordered a half slab of ribs. They were delectable (and gluten-free).
During the meal I made small talk with the bartender, who turned out to be the younger brother of outfielder Josh Phelps (now retired). This minor but nonetheless interesting baseball-related happenstance marked the conclusion of this particular road trip, as from Dreamland I went straight to the airport. I am happy to report that the boiled peanuts made it home safely.
Welcome to the second 2013 installment of “Return to the Road,” in which I highlight that which was experienced above and beyond the ballparks during my road trip travels. Part one covered May 8 and 9 in Bowling Green and Nashville, and today’s post picks up in the early afternoon of Friday, May 10th. I had attended the previous night’s Sounds game at Nashville’s Greer Stadium — read about that HERE — and upon checking out of the hotel (complete with Road Trip Hotel Room Review #2) I made my way back to the area surrounding the ballpark.
My destination was Gabby’s Burgers, an unassuming but very well-regarded burger joint located the proverbial hop, skip, and jump away from Greer.
The above photo was taken as I was leaving Gabby’s, but when I arrived there was a line that snaked all the way out of the door. It was hard to take pictures within such a cramped environment, but this more or less conveys what the scene was like inside.
As many of you know, a celiac disease diagnosis has forced me to adapt to a gluten-free diet. Ultra-specific fast food establishments such as Gabby’s can sometimes be difficult to navigate, but I had been informed the previous evening that they did in fact offer a “jazz style” burger in which the bun was replaced with lettuce. Not ideal, perhaps, but perfectly acceptable! I ordered a “Seamus burger, jazz-style” and then snagged a seat at the counter. About 10 minutes later, this arrived.
I’m writing this six months after the fact, so perhaps my adjectival command is not what it might have been, but I can say without equivocation that this burger was STUPENDOUS, easily one of the top three that I’ve ever had in my life. If you’re in Nashville, and especially if you’re in the vicinity of Greer Stadium, then you owe it to yourself to make a visit.
Greer Stadium’s iconic guitar scoreboard can be seen from the Gabby’s parking lot, and a record pressing plant (!) is located just down the street as well. Burgers, baseball, and vinyl — what more could you want from life? (Well, actually, I can immediately think of a few other things.) But all good things must come to an end, even if they come in threes, and soon enough I was off to Kodak (or would that be Sevierville?), home of the Tennessee Smokies. My journey was not without its miscues, as you may recall from my Smokies’ “On the Road” post:
I arrived at Smokies Park a bit later than I was aiming for, due to a GPS/common sense snafu in which I drove to a “Stadium Drive” in Knoxville instead of the one in Sevierville. It wasn’t until I made a turn onto “Peyton Manning Pass” that it occurred to me that I may have driven to the University of Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium instead.
This, perhaps, was not my finest moment. But I was nonetheless in good spirits when I arrived at the Hampton Inn. You can see the ballpark from the stadium!
I wrote all about my visit with the Smokies, HERE and HERE and HERE. The next morning I posted Road Trip Hotel Room Review #3, and then embarked upon the long and winding mountain drive to Asheville. Upon arriving I found myself with about two hours of free time, and I decided to make the most of it by doing what I do best: wandering the downtown area in search of independent record stores. In Asheville, a city that prides itself on its cultural eclecticism and general open-mindedness, it didn’t take long to find one.
Static Age was a bit dungeon-esque, but it didn’t make me crabby. They had a bunch of Record Store Day stuff that had long become unavailable in New York City, and I was glad to snag Mercury Rev’s “Deserted Songs” as well as a free Sub Pop sampler (they also still had limited edition Bardo Pond and Mugstar releases and in my head I was like “Yo, Asheville heavy psych bros, you gotta get on that.”)
After leaving Static Age I soon came across Voltage Records.
While combing through the stacks at Voltage, I looked up and saw a most familiar site. I had this poster hanging in my bedroom, circa 1996.
Downtown Asheville was bustling on this Saturday afternoon, and despite what some of these pictures may convey it was truly a vibrant and spirited atmosphere.
Downtown also boasts this iconic art deco beauty, the S & W Cafeteria.
S & W was a chain restaurant that served inexpensive (but presumably delicious) Southern cooking. The Asheville location was open from 1929-74, and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. For better or for worse, it is currently being renovated into condominiums.
Interior-wise, the most physically impressive establishment that I visited was the Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar. This multi-level book store is well organized and offers plenty of comfortable nooks and crannies to sit and drink coffee, wine, and yes, champagne. It’d be a great place to hang out for an hour or two, but, as is often the case on these trips, I just didn’t have the time. And, as is also so often the case, my pictures do not do it justice.
Back outside and once again wandering about, I soon noticed that one of these things is indeed not like the other.
I was not in the market for a red, white, and blue bandanna, but I was in the market to visit another bookstore. I always am. Here’s some interior shots of the plainly named and plainly awesome Downtown News.
Perhaps the best thing about Downtown News was their exemplary (maga)zine selection.
Arthur is currently my favorite magazine and if over the course of reading this blog you’ve found that your sensibilities are similar to mine then please take the time to check it out (I also copped that Mojo with Sabbath on the cover).
I of course realize that there is far more to Asheville than its book and record stores, but given a limited amount of time that’s what I chose to focus on and I hope you were able to pick up on at least a little bit of what I was putting down.
I’ll end with a total non-sequitur, as I have one other photo in this particular road trip folder that is totally out of context. I imagine that this is something that I stumbled upon at a gas station somewhere between the Smoky Mountains and Asheville, but certainly it is not something that I have seen before or since. The object of this game was to use a joystick to control a pair of scissors that could then cut the string holding one of two prizes: a Nikon camera and a wad of money. I don’t remember operating this ridiculous contraption, but if I did I failed.
And with that, I have no more outside-of-the-ballpark detritus to share from what were my third and fourth days of 2013′s “Southern Swing.” Thanks, as always, for sticking with me.
With quasi-arbitrary personal and professional milestones firmly in the rear view mirror, it’s now time to move confidently into the future by dwelling in the past. In other words, it’s time to Return to the Road! Some of you may be familiar with the “Return to the Road” concept, but for those who aren’t:
Each season I go on several Minor League Baseball road trips, documenting the ballpark experience as thoroughly as I am able. But, of course, part of the beauty of this sort of road trip is that it gives gives one the opportunity to explore not just the ballpark but the city itself. And that’s simply what these posts are — an offseason opportunity for me to re-visit my 2013 road trips by highlighting that which was seen and experienced outside of the ballpark. (Even if it wasn’t much — I’m on a tight schedule!)
2013′s slate of peregrinations began with May’s Southern Swing trip, with stop #1 being in Bowling Green. I attended May 8′s Hot Rods game, and the next morning, after recording the first of what would become several dozen “Road Trip Hotel Room Reviews,” I was able to explore Bowling Green’s downtown area (located the proverbial “hop, skip, and a jump” away from the stadium). The focal point of downtown is “Fountain Square Park,” which is ripped straight out of Norman Rockwell’s America.
Per the Bowling Green Convention and Visitor’s Bureau:
Restored facades of 19th-century buildings, a renovated Art Deco movie theater, thriving businesses and bustling professionals surround the park’s historic fountain, statues, flowers, shrubs, mature trees and benches. Once the site of prohibitionist marches, trolleys, livestock trades and scrap drives, today it is the host of summer concerts, parades, arts and crafts shows and many other festivals and events throughout the year.
Here’s what I saw on a sleepy afternoon in early May, beginning with the titular fountain:
But not all of downtown Bowling Green was as genteel as the images seen above. Here’s Rocky’s Bar, located at 322 E. Main Street.
Inebriates in the know know to order Gorilla’s Blood.
Unfortunately, that little spot of downtown wandering was about all that I had time for whilst in Bowling Green. I was listening to local country radio as I drove out of the city, and would you believe that Lee Greenwood was playing at the exact moment at which I passed the Greenwood Mall? It’s true. My notes also indicate that I heard George Strait and Alan Jackson’s “Murder on Music Row” as well, and that this song is “a much-needed corrective to condescending schlock.”
I can’t tell you where I was, exactly, but about an hour or so later I drove by this establishment and immediately did a u-turn so that I could photograph it. This, to me, is beauty incarnate:
Of course, one of the best things about trips such as these is stopping at kitschy rest stops for gas/food/totally unnecessary and irredeemably tacky but nonetheless irresistible souvenirs.
At Sad Sam’s, one is greeted by this statue. It is as vividly rendered as it is culturally insensitive.
This guy is a behemoth!
I limited myself to three items while at Sad Sam’s: An “anti-snoring” contraption consisting of a small clothespin in a wooden box (sadly not pictured), a can of boiled peanuts and the bizarrely wax-like peanut patty.
Out in the parking lot of Sad Sam’s an older gentlemen with greased-hair and a pack of Pall Malls in his breast pocket struck up a conversation with me. He was curious as to whether I liked the Kia I was driving (my rental car), and when I replied that it was adequate but unremarkable he told me that he bought an “alien green” Kia for his wife.
“She likes it, but I’m a retired auto worker,” he told me. “If I drove it to our union meetings everyone would make fun of me.”
And with that, it was on to Nashville. En route to Greer Stadium, home of the Sounds, I was able to make a brief detour at Grimey’s. Behind this humble domestic facade lurks one of the best-regarded record stores in the city.
I enjoyed browsing the stacks — both at Grimey’s and its next-door “Grimey’s Too” location — and ended up purchasing three new 7″ records (two of which were on Nashville’s Third Man record label), a couple of used LPs, and the awesome issue of Juxtapoz that was dedicated to the visual aesthetic of the Beastie Boys. My notes also indicate that the Fiery Furnaces cover of “Single Again” was playing in the store and that I “should get that.”
Grimey’s was very close to Greer Stadium, and my next stop was even closer: Fort Negley, a Union fortification built during the Civil War, is located adjacent to the ballpark.
Greer Stadium is actually visible from the base of Fort Negley.
I’m going to go out on a limb and declare this to be the only guitar-shaped scoreboard that is visible from a National Historic Landmark.
And from there, it was off to the ballgame. As I noted at the time, the Sounds were expecting me.
You can read all about my night with the Sounds by clicking HERE, but as for this particular post this is all I’ve got. I’ll close by noting that I have a pork cracklin addiction, and had to ration myself to one bag for every day that I was on this road trip. Nothing like pulling a blogging all-nighter in a hotel while eating a bag of Golden Flakes and drinking Mello-Yello!
Thanks for “returning to the road” with me. Post #1001 is now complete.
The above title is a bit of misnomer, as the Promo Seminar is only three days long and was over by the time that everything in this post took place.
But! I was still in Louisville for the bulk of this particular day, and I did some things and saw some things and now I’m going to write all about it. I just don’t know what else to do.
Friday, September 27
After a semi-productive morning of writing, I checked out of Louisville’s Galt House Hotel amid a scene of controlled chaos. While the Minor League Baseball Promo Seminar had been a fairly large event, it had nothing on the H20-XPO taking place that weekend and the lobby was absolutely packed with water industry merchants, policy makers, activists, and hangers-on. I wanted nothing more than to get out of that aquamarine mob scene, but wasn’t scheduled to leave Louisville for another couple of hours. So, I commenced to walking.
The Galt House Hotel is on 4th Street, and as part of a downtown revitalization effort a nearby stretch of this street has been closed to traffic and transformed into a retail/dining/nightlife complex called “Fourth Street Live!” It’s good for what it is (an accessible downtown gathering spot), but there’s no getting around the fact that its loud and tacky, with a disproportionate amount of square footage given over to national chains.
Spending time on Fourth Street Live, while convenient for those situated downtown, leaves the visitor with little to no sense of what it is that might make Louisville unique. Therefore, I was glad to get a little time to walk around and take note of that which existed beyond the penned-in parameters of Fourth Street Live.
Before becoming the proud home of entities such as TGI Fridays, Hard Rock Cafe, and Howl at the Moon piano bar, Fourth Street was the site of Civil Rights sit-in protests.
Click HERE to check out a photo gallery of the sit-ins and protests that took place in and around Louisville’s Fourth Street. Captivating stuff.
Just a few minutes later I came across this little monument to monk/poet/activist Thomas Merton, who became a monk at the nearby Abbey of Gethsemani (his famous autobiography Seven Storey Mountain was written there, among many other works).
Even better is the back of the plaque, which says that on this very corner Merton had the sudden realization that he “loved all these people.”
Seeing this plaque got me to thinking about how we, as a society, don’t do enough to honor and promote the work of men and women of peace. While attending the Promo Seminar I heard a lot of great ideas about military-themed promotions and events, and I’m generally all for these types of endeavors as they represent a great chance to honor the sacrifices made by those in the community who have served overseas. But there is too much of a disparity at play, this willingness to almost indiscriminately label anyone remotely connected with the military as a “hero” while rarely if ever extending the same level of consideration to those who dedicate their lives to issues revolving around peace and social justice.
And, of course, even typing the above paragraph made me think about how I haven’t done nearly enough work on these fronts and am, at present, an ineffectual and self-centered urbanite whose college-era idealism has withered into a general “eh, I’m just trying to get by in NYC” sort of malaise. This is unacceptable, but also unacceptable is the continuation of this tangent, because, look, I had a baseball bat museum to visit.
And on the way to this baseball bat museum I saw another really interesting plaque!
Thornton Blackburn’s Wikipedia page is short, but absolutely fascinating. Please enjoy this brief excerpt, as I am laboring under the delusion that everyone is interested in what I am interested in:
[The Blackburn's] had been settled in Detroit, Michigan, for two years when, in 1833, Kentucky slave hunters located, re-captured, and arrested the couple. The Blackburns were jailed but allowed visitors, which provided the opportunity for Lucie to exchange her clothes—and her incarceration—with a Mrs. George French. Lucie was then spirited across the Detroit River to safety in Amherstburg, in Essex County, Upper Canada (U.C.).
Thornton’s escape was more difficult as he was heavily guarded, bound and shackled. The day before Thornton was to be returned to Kentucky, Detroit’s African American community rose up in protest. A crowd of some 400 men stormed the jail to free him.
Anyhow, I was indeed headed to a baseball bat museum or, to put it more specifically, the Louisville Slugger Museum. Along the way, one passes a variety of commemorative plaques which immortalize the Louisville Sluggers used by famous players. This was a Jeff Bagwell edition.
Along the way to the museum, there were many sights to be seen. Sights such as humorous Army-Navy Store signage.
Not to mention a 30-foot tall gold replica of Michelangelo’s David.
Finally, there was this photo op in front of the Louisville Science Center.
Eventually, my destination was reached.
There were no photos allowed during the factory tour, under penalty of death, but it was enjoyable to be walked through the bat making process. Afterwards I wandered about the museum portion, pausing briefly to take this subpar photo.
Ted loved his Louisville Slugger.
So did the Babe.
After visiting the Louisville Slugger Museum my hope had been to swing by Zooperstars! headquarters, but time was a bit too tight so I simply walked around for a bit on East Market Street. Before skimming through the record selection at Please and Thank You coffee shop, I stopped by Muth’s Candies and scored some primo peanut brittle.
Kentucky Fried Chicken is headquartered in Louisville, but I don’t think this graffiti was approved by corporate.
And then there’s this:
One final thing about KFC is that Louisville is home to the thus far only location of the more upscale (but still very casual) “KFC Eleven.“
And with that random fact, I am officially out of Louisville-based content. I flew back to New York City that evening, thus ending what I truly believe was a successful jaunt to Kentucky. I just wish that said jaunt could have lasted a bit longer, because then I could have attended the Cropped Out Festival. Blues Control and Endless Boogie on the same night would have been awesome!
Meanwhile, I consider this blog to be its own sort of endless boogie. Post #988 is now in the bag.
Welcome to another installment of this Louisville tour diary, in which I detail the time that was had (by me) during last week’s Minor League Baseball Promotional Seminar. This post shall chronicle Day Three, but before proceeding please know that a recap of Day One can be found HERE and a recap of Day Two can be found HERE.
And with that bit of introductory housekeeping out of the way, we can now proceed with an unburdened spirit.
Thursday, September 26
Day Three started out strong, as Golden Bobbleheads were the first order of business. These annual awards honor the best promotions to take place in the Minor Leagues during the season, and are voted on by Seminar attendees (the finalists are chosen on a monthly basis by Minor League Baseball HQ in St. Pete). Before voting, each nominated team gives a brief presentation on their promotion, with teams not attending sending video submissions instead (these teams rarely, if ever, win). The end result is a fun and fast-paced couple of hours, as teams politic, provoke and plead from the podium.
Five Golden Bobbleheads are eventually awarded, in the categories of Best Non-Game Day Event, Best Theme Night, Best Charity Promotion or Event, and Best In-Game. I’ll weigh on the winners at a later date in the near future, but as for the presentations themselves this is the only photo that I possess:
That’s Lake Elsinore Storm assistant general manager Raj Narayanan standing next to a gorilla, who soon took part in a light saber battle that almost ripped down the stage curtains. Such anarchy is par for the course when it comes to the Storm, who regularly engage in such nonsense at the Promo Seminar (for better or for worse I’ll never forget their 2009 presentation in which they touted their Subtle Butt flatulence neutralizer giveaway).
Meanwhile, my 10 nominations for 2013′s “Promo of the Year” MiLBY Award are just about to be unveiled. Check them out on MiLB.com and vote for your favorite! The MiLBY’s are the fan equivalent of the Golden Bobblehead, the hoi polloi-embracing yin to their industry insider yang. These two awards are not in competition with one another, but I’ve got to say it’s been a bit disheartening to find that teams generally care a lot more about winning a Golden Bobblehead. Again and again teams brag to me about winning a Golden Bobblehead (often thinking that I have something to do with their selection), but rarely do I hear such excitement when it comes to the MiLBYs.
This is disheartening, yes, but somehow I carry on.
There was a full slate of presentations after the Golden Bobblehead portion of the morning (one of which included a hilarious verbal slip-up), but for the most part I wasn’t paying much attention. In fact, for much of it I wasn’t even in the room. This is because I was to be the Seminar’s final ballroom presenter, so I spent some time in the hotel room putting the finishing touches on this:
I suppose the title is self-explanatory, as this 20-minute speech simply detailed my 2013 travels in chronological order. I tried to keep it breezy and funny yet informative, and I think I succeeded. Going into it I was incredibly nervous and edgy and couldn’t really sit still, but as soon as I got on the stage I was completely relaxed and started making jokes like they were going out of style (and my kind of jokes really are going out of style).
(Also: I am available to give this speech, or variations thereof, in other venues. All that I ask is for travel and lodging expenses to be covered and a small “whisky stipend” provided.)
Unfortunately this smartphone photo seems to be the only documentation of my speech that exists. Please know that it was delivered into a sea of smiling faces, each more impressed than the last at my boundless charm, buoyant humor, and verbal dexterity. If anyone else has any more photos then please send them to me! The flames of narcissism need to be fanned, as I am a lonely man and the offseason is long and cold.
I celebrated my victorious speech like I celebrate everything else: by eating a meal in public while standing, completely alone. In the afternoon there were a couple more “Group Therapy” sessions, and one of the ones I attended was titled “Beyond the Press Release” (moderated by Minor League Baseball corporate communications manager Mary Marandi). I spoke a little bit during the session about the unpredictable crapshoot that is national media attention, but here are two things in my notes that I didn’t get around to mentioning.
– For the love of God, it is the year 2013 and therefore ALL press releases should be sent using BCC (believe it or not, there are still some teams who display their entire mailing lists in the “to” column of every single press release they send).
– Maintain Facebook and Twitter feeds separately. There are still several teams whose Facebook posts automatically appear on Twitter in truncated form (usually ending in the middle of a sentence, followed by an ellipse), which gives Twitter followers the impression that they are a total afterthought. Twitter is far too important a means of communication to be used in such a slapdash manner.
Any thoughts on any of this? Let me know.
Up until this juncture I have been extremely heavy on the written word, leading eyes to glaze over, minds to numb and joints to atrophy. As a remedy to these myriad afflictions I shall close the post with a barrage of photos from Thursday evening’s ballpark outing to Louisville Slugger Field, home of the Bats (this is easily the best stadium naming rights deal in Minor League Baseball, as regards the company’s connection to both city and sport). After shuffling off of the hotel shuttle almost everyone headed toward the concourse booze merchants, but not I. My allegiance is not to the booze (well, at least some of the time), my allegiance is to you. Therefore, I did a full lap around the stadium before entering.
Architecturally speaking and otherwise, Louisville Slugger Stadium is an absolute gem. It fits beautifully into its downtown surroundings, incorporating a defunct train depot into the design and featuring gorgeous views of the Ohio River and the bridges spanning it.
The statue out front commemorates Louisville native Pee Wee Reese in high-flying form.
This pathway (located down the third base side of the facility) leads to an outfield entrance.
Like moths to a flame, industry was gathered ’round the booze (yes, I have a tough time maintaining a gluten-free diet in a ballpark environment, but I think it would be even tougher to work in baseball as a recovering alcoholic).
Tours were being offered at this stage, so I joined on with a group whose departure was imminent. The view from the suites:
This picture, hanging in a corridor located outside of the press box, gives a sense of what an absolute behemoth Cardinal Stadium was (the team played here from 1982-99, largely as a member of the now-defunct American Association).
Old American Association championship banners decorate this spacious entranceway area, which used to be the aforementioned train depot.
We then ambled down to the Bats’ clubhouse, home of the forsaken Aerobie.
This was one of the few clubhouses that I’ve seen that feature a pool table.
Beyond that, I simply enjoyed documenting some of the more absurd pieces of 2013 season detritus. I wonder what the fine is for allowing the fine box to be photographed by a middling Minor League blogger?
Not the best place for a fitted hat sticker, guys.
No offense, USA Baseball.
And while Muhammad Ali is one of Louisville’s most famous native sons, let it be known that one of his most celebrated adversaries also logged time here.
Back upstairs, there was a whole lotta eatin’ going on. Although I failed to document it, the centerpiece of my dinner was a “Kentucky filet mignon” aka fried bologna.
Dinner was followed by the presentation of the Golden Bobbleheads, but, as mentioned previously, I’ll save my thoughts on them for another time. After the awards “ceremony,” whilst in the midst of the usual industry event hobnobbing, I was approached by members of the Bats’ staff. Would I be interested in dressing as a racing food product? How could I say no?
Back down into the abyss we descended:
No documentation exists of our concourse forays, but it was an interesting experience. Usually when I’m in costumes such as the above, the response is one of constant attention. “Hey, can I get a picture?” “High five!” “I know you can hear me!” etc. But when dressing up as a racing food product amid an all-industry crowd, THE INDUSTRY DOES NOT CARE. I was met with contemptuous glares by some, but most were completely indifferent and couldn’t even be bothered to high five. Okay, cool, that’s fine, save your energy for the piano bar. I understand that at this point in the calendar year a certain ennui has set in. It sure has for me!
But yet, I keep writing. There will be more from Louisville, because there is always more until there is nevermore. But, for now, I’m gonna quit Raven.
Wednesday, September 25
The previous post in this ongoing saga detailed Day One of the 2013 Minor League Baseball Promotional Seminar, held in Louisville’s Galt House Hotel. And when there’s a Day One it’s a near certainty that Day Two will follow. In my case that’s just what happened, and therefore Day Two is what this post shall detail.
But no matter what day it is, you be sure that there’s a lot going on at the Seminar.
The morning portion of the Seminar was devoted to “Around the Horn,” in which the microphone is passed around the room so that attendees may detail their most successful endeavor of the 2013 season. I wrote all about this on MiLB.com, which, believe it or not, is the official web site of Minor League Baseball. But I took note of far more than that which was included in the article, some of which I will now share:
– South Atlantic League president Eric Krupa plugged his website Club Philanthropy, which details charitable efforts taking place across the world of Minor League Baseball. (Lots of great ideas are contained therein, although it hasn’t been updated since April.)
– The Gastonia Grizzlies, a collegiate wood bat team, staged a “Dig to China Night” promotion in which plane tickets to China were buried in the infield dirt. Whomever located the tickets in a post-game dig would win them, but here’s the catch — the tickets were one-way only, and nothing else was included as part of the package.
– Myrtle Beach Pelicans GM Andy Milovich said that “Salute to Smells” was his team’s best promotion of the year. I wrote about it HERE.
– Phil Wrye, assistant GM of the Bowie Baysox, extolled the virtues of his team’s “Glow in the Park Night.” 2500 fans received glow sticks, greatly enhancing the ballpark atmosphere (especially prior to that evening’s fireworks display).
– The Tri-City ValleyCats attempted to set the Guinness World Record in the category of “Most People Wearing False Mustaches.” This endeavor was inspired by manager Ed Romero, who has a real mustache. (In other news, I am not a fan of the Guinness World Records governing body. My thoughts on that, and much more, can be heard in the latest GameOps podcast. I was speaking live and direct from Louisville’s Galt House Hotel.)
– Emcee Todd “Parney” Parnell remarked at one point that during the early stages of the offseason it would behoove teams to look into the upcoming summer movie release schedule. Based on this info, you can plan timely theme nights well in advance. Another solid Parney tidbit was this: “I tell everyone on our staff to read the [local] paper every day. Some of our most impactful promotions have been done at a moment’s notice.”
– The Lowell Spinners talked about their military trading card set giveaway, which honors local servicemen and women both past and present. This is an idea that other teams will almost certainly steal for their own promotional schedules, and later in the week I snagged my own pack of these cards. Check ‘em out (and excuse the glare):
But, of course, not everyone attending the Promo Seminar works for a Minor League Baseball team. This “Around the Horn” session also gives Job Seekers a chance to introduce themselves and Trade Show exhibitors a chance to promote their product. And when the mic was passed to me, I took the opportunity to lobby for increased gluten-free options at Minor League ballparks in 2014 and beyond. There’s no interest like self-interest ‘cuz self-interest don’t stop!
Wednesday afternoon was largely taken up by “Power Sessions,” in which industry leaders take part in a moderated panel discussion. First up was an intermittently illuminating “What’s Next” roundtable about the future of the industry, which included Minor League exec-turned Astros president Reid Ryan on the panel. I found Reid’s perspective to be an interesting one, in that he is attempting to incorporate some Minor League-style entertainment into the Astros’ big league show. For example — this season, the Astros asked fans to tweet suggestions for the walk-up songs of visiting players.
Michael Hand, the chief marketing officer of Project Brand, spoke on Wednesday afternoon as well. This was the first chance for many in the industry to meet Mr. Hand, who is tasked with obtaining national sponsorship deals for Minor League Baseball as the industry attempts to establish itself as a uniformly formidable sporting entity (which it is!) Hand has an aggressive, take-no-prisoners approach to his job and I got the sense that his intensity and enthusiasm impressed many in the audience.
The Seminar portion of the day complete, attendees adjourned to the Trade Show cocktail party and silent auction. I made a brief appearance at this shindig, but, like the day before, soon left the hotel in order to spend the evening with an actual Louisville resident. Wednesday’s tour guide was Dan Simon of Studio Simon fame (he designed this year’s Promo Seminar logo, in fact), and during a drive around the city we saw many sights and some of them I actually managed to take pictures of.
Such as this — Jim Patterson Stadium, home of the University of Louisville baseball team.
This was a very impressive looking facility, as were all of the University of Louisville facilities I saw during my time in the city. It kinda left me with the impression that academics is not exactly the top priority at this institution, but who knows? Maybe they’re excelling on all fronts?
One pocket of the city that’s definitely excelling on all fronts is St. James Court, located in “Old Louisville.” The houses on this tree-lined street were a sight to behold, bestowed as they were with turn-of-the-20th century Victorian architectural splendor, and I immediately began to fantasize about living in one of them.
I’m not sure what adjective anyone else would use, but I’m going to go ahead and call this fountain “iconic.”
The Conrad-Caldwell house is on the corner, fully restored and open for tours. The internet informs me (and by extension, us) that this house is a “stunning example of Richardsonian-Romanesque architecture” and though I don’t know what that means I am nonetheless impressed.
There was more to my evening in Louisville, but since it wasn’t documented photographically it may as well have not happened. If there was only a way in which one could paint a picture with their words!
While I may be stretching the definition of “On the Road” by labeling this an “On the Road” post, I was indeed out of the office and hence “On the Road” this past week, visiting the city of Louisville for the annual industry event that is the Minor League Baseball Promotional Seminar. Perhaps you aware of this event, either through attending it yourself or through reading my coverage over the years (I attended from 2008-2011 before taking last year off because I was in a bad mood).
Regardless, the premise is simple:
Minor League Baseball teams all operate within their own markets and, hence, don’t compete with one another. Therefore, the industry is big on idea sharing and the Promotional Seminar represents an opportunity to do just this. I sense a redundancy attack coming, so rather than succumb I’m just going to quote from my recently published MiLB.com piece:
The Promotional Seminar is a well-structured event, with the agenda divided into three main components: Presentations (in which one speaker presents to all attendees), Power Sessions (moderated panel discussions in front of all attendees) and Group Therapy (categorically divided small group discussions running concurrently with one another).
I’d ask that you please read this aforementioned MiLB.com piece, but as for this blog post it’s going to be a bit more ramshackle and (inevitably) me-centric. Also, it’s going to be chronological and it will only focus on Day One of the seminar.
Tuesday, September 24
After sleeping my way through two flights (the Charlotte airport, I hardly knew ye), I arrived in Louisville a little after noon and proceeded to high tail it to (or more accurately, take a cab to) the downtown Galt House Hotel. This hotel, which can safely be categorized as a behemoth, features two buildings connected by a street-spanning pedestrian walkway. Here’s the view from down the block because, apparently, that’s the photo I could muster.
At 3 o’clock I was scheduled to moderate a Group Therapy discussion, entitled “If You Book Them, Will They Come: What Touring Acts Drive Attendance and Why?” I tried my best to put together an outfit in which I looked business casual chic but instead doofusness resulted. It usually does.
Overall I thought this went well, although the conversation didn’t flow as fast and furiously as it had in the session that took place just prior to mine (“How to Promote a Promotion” moderated by Jen Borowski of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans). Later a few people told me that it had been a tad awkward that several touring performers were in the room, making it so that those working for front offices were hesitant to talk openly about their booking strategies (or lack thereof).
On an industry-wide level one can find many different viewpoints regarding touring performers (which include everyone from the Cowboy Monkey Rodeo show to Reggy the Purple Party Dude to Utility Man Ben to Fur Circus to Louisville’s own Zooperstars! posse). Some teams swear by ‘em, saying that whether fans explicitly come to see them or not they leave the ballpark with indelible memories that will certainly influence their willingness to spring for tickets again. Other teams say that touring perforomers don’t justify the cost, as promotional budgets are limited and its cheaper to develop and promote entertainment in-house.
I understand both views, and don’t think that they are necessarily mutually exclusive. In some alternate reality in which I controlled a promo budget, I’d prioritize in-house talent but nonetheless be adamant about booking 2-3 touring performers a year as its nearly impossible to rival the entertainment that can be provided by road-hardened pros. (Best case scenario, of course, is that sponsorship can be found for the touring act in question so that it doesn’t have to come out of the promo budget at all.)
Digression complete, it was time to proceed past the Trade Show (which represents a chance for exhibitors to re-establish connections and gain some name recognition before the gargantuan free-for-all that is the Winter Meetings) and into the Grand Ballroom.
If there’s one image that, year to year, defines the Promo Seminar it would be this: a bunch of people in a hotel ballroom listening to a speech. I think I’m now starting to understand why my coverage of this event generates virtually no interest whatsoever outside of the industry. (Or in it, for that matter. Why am I writing this?)
Highlights of this truncated Tuesday afternoon portion included Amy Venuto’s impassioned (my notes say “evangelical”) talk on “season seat holder membership programs” as well as Nashville Sounds GM Brad Tammen’s talk on getting the most out of dilapidated facilities. This latter presentation seemed cathartic more than anything else, as Tammen shared the many trials and travails he has experienced while operating in Greer Stadium (flooded front offices and collapsed entrance ways are a way of life).
A welcoming cocktail reception followed, and while I’m all for boozing it up with the industry I had to make a quick exit as earlier in the week I had made arranged to meet with longtime reader Stevo, a score-keeping savant and “semi-retired punk/metal atavist” who lives in Louisville. Before making our way to a local eatery, Stevo pointed out a few points of interest. Such as this:
While the downtown Louisville Slugger Museum includes a working factory, Stevo pointed out that the majority of the company’s output is actually produced in this far less scenic environment. This makes sense because while the museum is a great place to visit (I was there on Friday), it seems unlikely that it alone could handle the demands that come as a result of being the world’s number one wooden bat provider.
Stop two was duPont Manual High School, established in 1892 as an all-male institution and now a co-ed magnet school serving grades 9-12. It is one of Louisville’s most iconic buildings and, more important for our baseball-centric purposes: Pee-Wee Reese went there!
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 email@example.com
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.
My “On the Road” posts are perhaps best described as impressionistic fever dreams, in which I try to piece the fragmented memories of my ballpark evenings into something resembling an objective reality. In doing so I strive to reach a fertile middle ground in which a small “t” truth can blossom into infallibility, but sometimes the discrepancy between my account of an evening and that of the team in question becomes too great to ignore. This is certainly what has occurred when it comes to my recent visit with the Reno Aces, as I documented a rather lackluster night at the ballyard that ended prematurely due to a rainout.
When the Aces read this post, they were incredulous. “It goes without saying that Ben is the greatest baseball writer of all time, but not even the greats are unimpeachable,” went the presumed front office sentiment. “And, like Loutallica or Chinese Democracy, Ben’s post on this alleged “Reno Rainout” represents greatness at its most deeply flawed.”
The Aces, led by marketing director Brett McGinness, took it upon themselves to compose a thorough corrective to my Reno rainout missive, which I will now reprint in full. In doing so I am not admitting to any errors in my previous account; rather, I am simply acknowledging that truth is a malleable construction, perhaps nothing more than a coping mechanism designed to create some semblance of order within an existence that requires daily navigation through the chaos of infinite conflicting realities.
We’re not sure what your recent column was, about the rainout at Aces Ballpark. Here’s how we remember it (with photographic proof):
It was a perfect August evening at Aces Ballpark. 75 at first pitch, not a drop of rain for miles.
The Aces and Redbirds took the field right on schedule, and you got the full Aceball experience. You seemed a bit road-weary.
The second-inning trike race against Archie went well. You pulled out to a huge lead, but seemed pretty blasé about the victory.
Next up: Dancing Grounds Crew. Surely this would shake you out of your stupor.
Guest-starring as Roof-Man, perhaps?
Same deal when you were in the wiener dog race (although you came in third, so it’s understandable why you might have been bummed out).
That was when we accidentally offered you a Triple Play Sandwich, chock-full of glutens. Cryptically, you told us, “Don’t offer me glutens. You wouldn’t like me on glutens.”
You took one bite of that sandwich and went a little nuts.
You proposed to some woman on the field. We’re still not sure if you knew who it was, or if you had met her before, or what.
We tried to tell you that “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” wasn’t a duet, but we couldn’t talk you down from the wall.
We didn’t really know what to do, so we had to call the cops.
Long story short, Nevada requires no residency for marriage certificates, so the marriage is binding. You should really head back here when you get a chance, your bride keeps stopping by the ballpark and asking about you, and we’re running out of excuses.
I’ve got to admit, the above account does explain a lot. Namely, why a woman with a 775 area code who is listed in my phone as “Betrothed” keeps calling me. I keep telling this lady that she’s got the wrong number, and that I remain Minor League Baseball’s most desirable bachelor, but who knows? Perhaps it’s time to own up to my gluten-fueled indiscretions and settle down in Reno.
Or perhaps not. I’ll spend the remainder of the week pondering my options, and in the meantime stay tuned for dispatches from one more “On the Road” locale: Hillsboro, home of the Hops. Hopefully my account will jibe with the team’s, but who really does know?