Results tagged ‘ On the Road ’

On the Road: It’s All a Blur in Brevard County

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

If you work in baseball, no matter what it is that you do, you’re going to have an off night. It’s a long season, and sometimes, for whatever reason, the results of your performance won’t meet previously established standards. Why am I saying this? Because, on this season-opening road trip, my visit to the Brevard County Manatees’ home of Space Coast Stadium was most definitely an off night. The combination of a hectic, overheated ballpark atmosphere (Little League Night) and short game time (two hours and 18 minutes) made it so I never found my footing. I was never in the groove. I wasn’t in control of the evening; the evening was in control of me.

C’est la vie. I did the best I could.

So here we go! Game time:

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Such was the scene in the top of the first inning, as Dunedin’s Roemon Fields led off the game with a walk and then proceeded to steal second and third. Such developments would have been news to these kids, because “Hey, kids, you’re looking the wrong way!”

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Baseball might not hold the attention of today’s youth, but you know what does? The chance to win a free t-shirt.

But who am I to get all self-righteous about watching — or not watching — a baseball game? I never watch the games I attend, as I’m too busy talking to people, watching people eat and participating in grounds crew dancing routines.

Tonight’s routine was to be to the tune of “It’s Not Unusual” by noted Pepsi Kona endorser Tom Jones. I wasn’t exactly sure what to do, but Manatees general manager Kyle Smith was willing to explain.

That was all the instruction needed. We killed it out there.

After the dancing, I stayed in the dugout well for a little while. I probably could have found a more worthwhile use for my time, but, what, manatee worry?

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Manny is such a lovable fellow, which makes it hard to take the team’s slogan seriously.

IMG_0442Anyhow, it was a pretty good view down there, so long as Manny wasn’t blocking it.

IMG_0425A veritable gaggle of kids was hanging out down here as well, so that they could participate in a between-inning shoe race.

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You know the deal:

1. The kids’ shoes are dumped onto the field

2. The kids run toward the pile of shoes

3. The kids must find the pair of shoes belonging to them, and put them on

4. The kids then run back from the field to the finish line near the dugout.

After approximately 47 consecutive foul balls were hit by the last batter of the inning, the kids had their time to (shoe) shine.

While you never would have known it if you had attended the game, the Manatees had announced a promotion earlier in the day that almost immediately garnered national attention. In the wake of Britt McHenry being suspended by ESPN for making “bullying” comments toward a tow truck employee, the Manatees extended an invitation to McHenry to spend the week of her suspension as the team’s field-side reporter. Additionally, they asked McHenry to speak out against the evils of bullying at an upcoming Education Day game.

mchenry_lrn1wk9q_6dcm6e5cI wrote an MiLB.com story all about this promotion. Now it’s time for — you guessed it — a relevant excerpt.

The Manatees’ invitation quickly drew interest from the media, first locally (newspaper Florida Today) and then nationally. As it just so happened, I was in attendance during April 17’s Manatees game at Space Coast Stadium and able to witness the surreal workplace disconnect that can result when a click-baiting Minor League promotion achieves its intended result. As general manager Kyle Smith and director of community relations Jennifer Garcia engaged in their myriad gameday tasks — everything from handling fan questions and complaints to coordinating between-innings promos to, in Smith’s case, doing the “Carlton Dance” during the dragging of the infield — they would periodically duck into (comparatively) quiet ballpark areas to field calls from the media. By the end of the day, the Manatees’ invite had garnered interest from national outlets — perhaps most notably online celebrity gossip powerhouse TMZ — who would ordinarily have no interest in the promotional efforts of a Florida State League baseball franchise.

A couple of days later, after I had returned home to New York City, I was reading the New York Daily News and happened upon this:

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Weird, right? Also weird is the fact that, all of a sudden, it was nighttime at Space Coast Stadium. I was losing track of time.

IMG_0431As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, I was all out of whack this evening. The game was just flying by and I felt powerless to stop it. Maybe because I was powerless to stop it. Before I knew it, the game was over and tennis balls were raining down on the field. Florida weather is weird.

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The screaming children then made a mass exodus from the ballpark. Ah, silence. Sweet, sweet, silence.

IMG_0444After the game, I interviewed Kyle about the McHenry promotion. His office, like this conference room, had an exquisite view of the field. Not a bad place in which to work!

IMG_0445While Smith and I were talking, the power at the stadium went out. I don’t know how or why, all I know is that it would have been terrifying and hilarious if this had occurred during the game. All those screaming kids would have been screaming even louder!

This was what Space Coast Stadium looked like as I made my way to the parking lot in darkness.

IMG_1023I could still see the space shuttle, however. At Space Coast Stadium, you can always see the space shuttle.

IMG_1024Stay tuned for part three of this Manatees series, as designated eater Enrique Cortes tackles the “No Wake Zone Burger.”

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On the Road: Checking Out the Space in Brevard County

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

The Brevard County Manatees play in Space Coast Stadium. While this name references the prevalence of the aeronautical industry within the region — most notably the Kennedy Space Center — it is also worth noting that this is a ballpark surrounded by a lot of space. This was my view upon pulling into the parking lot:

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I also saw some some birds.

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And a scenic waterfront statue.

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And fans gathering around and on a not-quite-to-scale space shuttle.

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And, oh yeah, there it is: Space Coast Stadium.

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Like most Florida State League facilities, Space Coast Stadium is also also used for Major League Spring Training. The Manatees are an anomaly, however, in that they are not the affiliate of the club that plays Spring Training games there. The Manatees are an affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers, while the Washington Nationals are the Spring Training tenant.

This arrangement will not last for much longer, however, as if all goes according to plan the Nationals will move to a new West Palm Beach complex shared with the Houston Astros. This would be much more amenable as regards travel (Tradition Field in St. Lucie and Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter are in close proximity to the West Palm Beach site) and, presumably, amenities.

When the Nationals leave, the Manatees will join the Daytona Cubs as the only FSL team not playing in a Major League Spring Training complex. There has long been chatter about building a new, standalone ballpark for the team, but it is also possible that they will simply soldier on at Space Coast.

There are worse places in which to soldier.

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A common problem in the FSL is that the teams play in very large facilities. Even decent crowds, by Class-A Advanced standards, seem sparse. To create a more intimate atmosphere and foster demand, however artificial, the Manatees have covered up entire sections of seating down the first and third base lines.

IMG_0413 Though the weather was looking a bit ominous, a big crowd showed up on this Friday evening. It was Little League Night, meaning that the joint was chock-a-block with screaming, uniformed children.

The right-field foul pole is dedicated to the Columbia space shuttle (left field honored the Challenger).

IMG_0398The view from left field.

IMG_0406A low-key tiki bar can be found out in this direction, one of the few ballpark locations to offer a respite from screaming, uniformed children.

IMG_0409The visitor’s bullpen is in left field as well. Look at this guy, doing his best to take up the entire bench all by himself. His teammates are like, “Not so fast, bro.”

IMG_0408While I was visiting in this area, I spent some time talking with one Enrique Cortes. He was to be my designated eater for the evening — you’ll meet him in a separate post — but in addition to being a skilled eater he also proved to be a fount of regionally specific information. To wit:

— The seats at Space Coast Stadium used to be teal, as the facility hosted Marlins Spring Training from 1994 through 2002.

— Nearby Cocoa Beach, Florida, was once a popular movie filming destination.

— The economy has been slow in recent times as a result of the decline of the space industry, but it’s picking back up thanks in part to the emergence of private space exploration firms such as SpaceX.

— Nearby Melbourne, Florida, is the hometown of Jim Morrison (the Doors singer, not the Major League infielder — and former Charlotte Stone Crabs manager — whose playing career spanned from 1977-88).

— Prince Fielder grew up in the area as well. He played for Melbourne’s Florida Air Academy during his first three years of high school.

So there you have it. Thanks for the factoids, Enrique. Here’s a sneak peak of him in action later in the evening.

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For reasons I can no longer recall, the ballgame’s ceremonial first pitch was thrown out by this inflatable fella.

IMG_0415I documented this occurrence with not one but, yes, two Vine videos.

During the singing of our National Anthem, I thought it’d be funny to pinpoint the Manatees player who stood at attention the longest. Take a bow, Preston Gainey!

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And with that, the game began. That’s just the sort of thing that seems to happen after the singing of our National Anthem. Part two of this blog series will, shockingly, pick up right where this one left off. Stay tuned.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: Getting Some Bang for the Buck in St. Lucie

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

We’ve reached the final installment of this St. Lucie trilogy, which could mean a lot of things, but in this case only means one thing: It’s Designated Eater Time!

You know the drill by now, but if not: The Designated Eater is an individual I recruit at each ballpark I visit, and this individual is tasked with eating the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.

In St. Lucie, this individual was Jay Meyer.

045Jay, originally from New York, moved to Boca Raton when he was 5 years old. He’s been a Minor League Baseball fan for over 20 years, going back to the days of the Fort Lauderdale Red Sox, but the St. Lucie Mets have long been his favorite squad. As you can see from his shirt, he has St. Lucie team pride.

Jay graduated from Florida State University medical school and is doing his residency at West Virginia University in Morgantown. His ultimate goal is to be a pediatrician. He said that he had been “going through baseball withdrawal” in Morgantown, a situation that should be alleviated next month when the New York-Penn League’s Morgantown Black Bears begin their inaugural season. Nonetheless, Jay says that the Sunshine State is where his heart is.

“Eventually, I want to come back home to Florida,” said Jay. “It’s what I know.”

OK, time to set the culinary scene with my evocative words and even more evocative pictures. Jay began his designated eating journey here, near the Tiki Bar.

027Just around the corner from the Tiki Bar, there is this concession stand.

046It was Buck Night — or was it Dollar Night? — at Tradition Field. Jay took full advantage.

Yep: Five hot dogs, five bucks. Jay was pleased with this arrangement.

038Specifically, these are Nathan’s Hot Dogs.

“They’re good. They’re Nathan’s,” said Jay. “It’s not the same as the [original] New York Nathan’s [in Coney Island], but for $1 you can’t lose. But it doesn’t have the same texture, the same skin, as the original Nathan’s. But it’s still good.”

Jay also enjoyed, or at least tolerated, an order of Nathan’s fries (he can be seen holding one such fry at the top of this post). My attempt at a closeup didn’t work so well, but here you go:

050“The fries are not as good as [the original] Nathan’s,” said Jay. “I like ’em more crunchy and hard.”

While Jay was indulging in his hot dogs and fries, I went and procured myself a Taco in a Helmet. At $6, the Taco in a Helmet is kind of a hard sell on dollar night, but dollar-night promos rarely include a decent gluten-free option and that’s what I was looking for.

Tortilla chips topped with ground beef, salsa, jalapenos, sour cream, lettuce and shredded cheese, modeled by a 30-something baseball writer who is — yes, ladies — single once again.

037Taco in a Helmet — ready for its closeup.

041When you’re done, turn it around and  — Bam! — souvenir.

044Speaking of souvenirs, here’s a #cupdate for all you cup-collecting fiends who will otherwise hound me day and night with your cup-related requests.

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043Finally, dessert! I don’t think I’d ever seen this at a Minor League ballpark before.

049The above photo depicts “Dirt in a Hat” — chocolate pudding with Oreo crumbles and Gummy worms.

051“I like it. It’s good, a perfect way to end the game,” said Jay. “It’s a good combo, the Oreos and the pudding are crunchy and creamy and then there’s the sweetness of the worms. It’s a win-win.”

And that’s when Jay and I parted ways, as he was enjoying the sweetness of the worms.

053Thanks for everything, Jay. You performed your designated eating duties with aplomb and verve.

And thanks for everything, St. Lucie. I really enjoyed my evening at Tradition Field.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: Characters and Coupons in St. Lucie

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

Hello, and welcome back to this “live” report from Tradition Field, home of the St. Lucie Mets.

001The previous dispatch in this series covered an array of pregame sights and sounds. Now, we remove the “pre” from the equation. It is officially game time here in St. Lucie (and, no, it’s not Larry David Lookalike Night).

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Further down the third-base line, fans can watch the game from the comfort of the Tiki Bar.

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I am never able to watch the games I attend, however. There is always wandering to do. An early bout of wandering this evening occurred alongside St. Lucie Mets general manager Traer Van Allen, who, over the years, has accumulated a 520-strong collection of bobbleheads.

“After spending this long in the industry, it’s really taken on a life of its own,” he told me. “I give them all a home. I don’t care what team it is.”

025Let’s take a quick look.

While Traer collects bobbleheads with an indiscriminate flair, there is of course an inevitable St. Lucie bias. The “Banana Phone,” for example:

023If you’re wondering why a Banana Phone would be honored in collectible figurine form, then you’re wasting valuable brain space. But, nonetheless, I’ll satiate your assumed curiosity via the posting of this excerpt of my 2010 “Promo Preview” column that explained the phenomenon:

St. Lucie Mets (Florida State League)
Banana Phone Giveaway, Sept. 6

All season long, the St. Lucie Mets have played Raffi’s “Banana Phone” whenever the opposing team makes a call to the bullpen. The fan base has responded to this unorthodox musical choice, doing improvised banana phone dances in the aisles and, in extreme cases, bringing bananas to the ballpark. Now everyone can get in on the act as the team will be giving away custom-designed banana phones on Monday. These cheerful anthropomorphic bananas feature a (non-functional) keypad on its belly and are sponsored by Humana. Therefore, it’s the Humana Banana Phone. Don’t let the opportunity to procure one of these items “potassium” you by.

So there you have it.

Moving on to another notable St. Lucie bobblehead in Traer’s collection, here’s “Mary Lou.”

022Mary Lou, a long-time St. Lucie Mets game-day employee, is unofficially known as the “world’s oldest intern.” A retired General Motors test driver from Michigan, Mary Lou began working for the team in 1997 and has done everything from maintenance work to running in-game promos to picking players up from the airport to, yes, wearing the mascot suit.

(Trigger Warning: This photo depicts a mascot without its head on.)

026I caught up with Mary Lou later in the evening. A St. Lucie Mets legend!

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Upon emerging from Traer’s lair of bobbleheads, I struck up a conversation with Gayle and Jack Fishbein. They’re the fans with the candy.

028I wrote a feature on the Fishbeins for MiLB.com. Again with the relevant excerpt:

Gayle and Jack always bring full-to-bursting Ziploc bags of candy to the ballpark, distributing them to the players as they’re warming up and socializing on the field prior to the start of the game. From Dubble Bubble to Tootsie Rolls, Starburst to Laffy Taffy, they’re equipped to meet the sweet-toothed desires of every St. Lucie Mets player.

No one, least of all Gayle and Jack, would argue that candy is good for the players’ health. But baseball players are known for their oral fixations, and candy is a far superior alternative to chewing tobacco. Tobacco products are banned in Minor League Baseball, but some players maintain the habit nonetheless. Gayle and Jack want to make sure that there is always an alternative, however. As the St. Lucie Mets players move up the Minor League ladder, and, perhaps, make it to the Major Leagues (where tobacco is still permitted), the Fishbeins hope the candy habit will take precedence over the far more dire possibility of being addicted to tobacco.

Oh, and here’s Grace, a familiar figure at Tradition Field.

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What’s that sign say, Grace?

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Next up on the evening’s agenda was to meet my designated eater (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet prohibits). His name is Jay Meyer, and my next post will be dedicated to his exploits.

045By the time Jay and I had parted ways, it was raining heavily and the tarp was on the field.

055The deluge caused some fans to head for the exits. Because that evening’s “K Man of the Game” had indeed struck out, fans were entitled to a coupon good for a free Taco Bell taco. This brave employee was on hand to make sure that these fans got what they were entitled to.

The game was official at this point — the Mets had a 7-3 lead over Brevard County in the bottom of the fifth — but the show must go on. After a 59-minute rain delay, the tarp was taken off the field. The cessation of play had given way to the resumption of play.

058And, we’re back!

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With very little to do at this point, I rambled back to Mulligan’s Bar and Grill and cracked wise amid the desolation.

I then introduced my self to a concession stand lizard. I had never seen one of those before.

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Finally, I helped myself to a front-row seat so that I could read up on the latest dugout news.

060A pair of rehabbing New York Mets pitched the eighth and ninth inning for St. Lucie: Vic Black and then Bobby Parnell.

Here’s Bobby!

Finally, some four hours after the ballgame began, it ended.

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St. Lucie’s handshake line culminated with a man wearing slacks designed to highlight his well-toned posterior.

065And to all those fans who left during the rain delay — you lose! After play resumed St. Lucie crossed the 10-run threshold, meaning that fans who stuck it out to the end received both the “‘K’ Man of the Game” free taco and a “10 Run Rule” free chicken sandwich.

068Whether you enjoy eating such fast food fare is beside the point, it’s just the principle of the thing. Never leave a game early. You never know what you’ll miss out on.

Like, you know, a Banana Phone Call to the Bullpen!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: Meeting the Mets in St. Lucie

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

Stop number six on my season-opening Florida road trip was Tradition Field, home of the St. Lucie Mets. Like most Florida State League ballparks, Tradition Field doubles as the Spring Training home of the parent club.

Therefore, it is big. Very, very big.

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Tradition Field opened in 1988; it has since been extensively renovated. The facility has been known as Tradition Field on two non-consecutive occasions, making it the Grover Cleveland of Minor League ballparks. The Tradition Field moniker was first used from 2004-09, the result of a naming rights deal with the 8200-acre master planned community known as Tradition, Florida. This was followed by a three year-stint in which the stadium was known by the far clunkier name of Digital Domain Park, but prior to the 2013 season Tradition, Florida re-assumed the name.

Maybe it was all part of their master plan?

My master plan was to get to the ballpark early enough to do a few clubhouse interviews, related to the previous night’s Jackie Robinson Celebration Game in Vero Beach (which featured St. Lucie as the “home” team).

This was my view as I lurked awkwardly outside of the clubhouse while waiting for media relations manager/team broadcaster Adam MacDonald to corral my victims subjects.

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One of the individuals with whom I spoke was St. Lucie Mets pitching coach Phil Regan. Regan, 78, made his professional baseball debut as a member of the 1956 Jamestown Falcons. (That season, he pitched 229 innings. Can you imagine a 19-year-old prospect handling that kind of workload in today’s game?)

I ended up turning my conversation with Regan into a standalone MiLB.com feature, as this is a guy who has many, many stories to tell. I barely scratched the surface.

dodgertown_960_bjt7w58s_mmz7l2s3Conversations complete, MacDonald and I took a stroll around the area.

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On the Road: Visiting an Historic Destination in Vero Beach

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

The fifth stop on this, my first Minor League ballpark road trip of the season, was Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach. Historic Dodgertown, which opened in 1948 without the “Historic” designation, is a former naval barracks converted by Branch Rickey into the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Spring Training home. Its creation was largely motivated by the desire to provide the team with a racially integrated training site.

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The sprawling grounds of Dodgertown — words which should be a refrain in a Bruce Springsteen song — include Holman Stadium.

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This facility hasn’t hosted a Minor League Baseball team since 2008 (RIP Vero Beach Devil Rays), but it comes alive each April 15 for the annual Jackie Robinson Celebration Game. The 2015 iteration of this game was to feature the Brevard County Manatees and St. Lucie Mets. This is what I was in Vero Beach to witness.

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On the Road: Here’s to You, Mr. Robinson in Vero Beach

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

I visited eight ballparks on my April 2015 Florida road trip. Of these eight ballparks, 62-year-old Holman Stadium was the most memorable.

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Holman Stadium hasn’t hosted a Minor League team since 2008. The annual Jackie Robinson Celebration Game, first implemented in 2014 and on track to be a recurring event for years to come, represents the only chance to witness a professional baseball played at this facility. I wrote all about the Jackie Robinson game over on MiLB.com. A relevant excerpt follows, though I’d ask that you please read the whole thing if time and attention span allow.

Dodgertown, located in Vero Beach, Florida, served as the Dodgers’ Spring Training home from 1948 through 2008. The 80-acre facility, now officially known as “Historic Dodgertown” has since found a second life as a multi-sport training and tournament venue. But, once a year, Dodgertown returns to its professional baseball roots with the Florida State League’s Jackie Robinson Celebration Game.

The 2015 Jackie Robinson Celebration Game took place on Wednesday, April 15, a day on which Robinson’s legacy is celebrated throughout professional baseball. The game’s participants were the Brevard County Manatees and St. Lucie Mets — the Florida State League teams located nearest Vero Beach — and a near-capacity crowd of 5,915 was on hand at Dodgertown’s Holman Stadium to witness it. Holman Stadium, which last hosted a Minor League Baseball team in the form of the FSL’s Vero Beach Devil Rays in 2008, was built on the Dodgertown grounds in 1953. The first player to hit a home run in the stadium was none other than Jackie Robinson.

Jackie Robinson is truly a man worth celebrating…

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…and it was a beautiful day for a ballgame.

016This was my first time in Vero Beach, but I’ve been on this beat long enough that I occasionally used to cover the promotions staged by the Vero Beach Devil Rays (the last team to play at Holman Stadium and, also, the last team to use the “Devil Rays” name).

Here, for example, is a guy using a urine cup (distributed as part of an “Anti-Doping Night” promotion) to hold his beer.

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And here, mascot Squeeze forces the British to surrender during “Revolutionary War Night.

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There would be no such shenanigans on this evening, of course. The Jackie Robinson Celebration Game is a decidedly more straightforward affair.

I arrived before the gates opened, giving me the opportunity to photograph the seats before they were occupied. And what an opportunity it was.

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On the Road: Dining at the Dean in Jupiter

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

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Florida State League food options are generally quite spartan. While many teams in the industry are known for their overstuffed culinary bombast, those in the FSL often adhere to an austere minimalism. The league is a Terry Riley in a sea of King Crimsons.

But enough with the alienating and indulgent references. I’m here to write — and you’re hear to read — about the food offerings at Roger Dean Stadium (home of both the Jupiter Hammerheads and Palm Beach Cardinals). Once Major League Spring Training is in the rear view, the facility tones downs its concession offerings considerably. This makes sense, because a typical Florida State League crowd is approximately 1/8th the size of those who flock to the stadium to watch the big leaguers play exhibition games in March.

On the night I was in attendance — April 14, for those keeping score at home — the Jupiter Hammerheads were in town. And my designated eater (you know, the individual recruited to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits) was a young go-getter by the name of Stephen Goldsmith.

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Stephen, a native of Princeton, New Jersey, is a senior at Boca Raton’s Lynn University. In fact, he’ll be graduating on Saturday (May 16) with a degree in sports management. (Lynn’s sports management program is run by professor Ted Curtis, a hands-on individual who annually brings groups of students to the Winter Meetings so that they may experience the machinations and maneuverings of the baseball industry firsthand. In this capacity, he and his students regularly makes appearances on this blog.)

This marked Stephen’s second game at Roger Dean Stadium. He said that he signed up to be a designated eater simply for the “chance to do something new when attending the ballgame.” Stephen will soon be garnering plenty of new baseball experiences, however, as upon graduating he’ll move to Ohio in order to begin an internship with the New York-Penn League’s Mahoning Valley Scrappers.

Our journey began in the quiet concourse of Roger Dean Stadium.

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The Island Grill was the only game in town, concessions-wise.

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The sky was the limit for Stephen, who was the beneficiary of this bit of front office largesse. When Ben Hill is in town, he gets “whatever he wants, all night long.” It says so in my rider.

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We simply ordered everything that was on the menu: a “Dean Dog,” brat, “Super Nachos” and Italian sausage.

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Have at it, Stephen:

Stephen was able to masticate so unselfconsciously because we were in a secluded area of the ballpark. The only people around were some kids having a catch.

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Oh, and a couple of his friends were on hand as well. That’s Morgan Goldstein on the left and Zachary Umanski on the right, both of whom, like Stephen, attend Lynn University.

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Umanski, for the record, has now made two appearances on this blog. I’m sure he’ll be putting this on his resume.

IMG_0547 Okay, Stephen. What did you think about the bounty that had been laid before you?

“I’m a big sausage fan. I’ve had a lot of sausage,” he said. “I think this one was cooked really well. The brat was really good, too, especially in the middle portion. Just a smooth taste, and the addition of the mustard makes it that much better. The Dean Dog, it was a regular hot dog. Usually I have a hot dog with mustard but I wanted to try it with ketchup. It tasted fine.”

As for the “Super Nachos”?

“Eh, they’re just nachos.”

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Oh, and there was Carly’s Italian Ice for dessert — which I, for one, greatly enjoyed.

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I’m not sure that Stephen enjoyed the Italian ice, however. He seemed to be in a state of deep regret.

“It was good, and very filling,” he said. “I would have liked my taste buds to have been more challenged, though, because I can get a hot dog on the street.”

048Nearly a month has passed, so I hope Stephen is feeling a little better these days. And keep an eye out for him at the Mahoning Valley Scrappers’ home of Eastwood Field this season. His opinions on sausage are worth listening to.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: Earth People, I Saw a Game in Jupiter

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

I guess I should take a moment to find out why the town of Jupiter, Florida — where Roger Dean Stadium is located — came to be called “Jupiter.” That’s a pretty strange name for a town. I don’t think I’d ever spent time in a place named after a planet in our solar system (keep your jokes to yourself).

And, wow, this is an interesting explanation. Per Wikipedia:

The area where the town now sits was originally named for the Hobe Indian tribe which lived at the mouth of the Loxahatchee River, and whose name is also preserved in the name of nearby Hobe Sound. A mapmaker misunderstood the Spanish spelling “Jobe” of the Indian name “Hobe” and recorded it as “Jove”. Subsequent mapmakers further misunderstood this to be the Latin translation of the god Jupiter, and they anglicized the name from Jove to “Jupiter”.

Too bad. “Hobe Hammerheads” would’ve had a nice ring to it. So, here we are in Jupiter’s Roger Dean Stadium. While the first post in this series explored the backfields and clubhouses, now we’re in the stadium itself.

Welcome.

027The above picture was taken from a camera well, from which Major League Spring Training games are filmed and then disseminated to the exhibition game-crazed masses. On the Tuesday evening I was in attendance, the media presence was sparse. Non-existent, even.

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The press box gets packed during Spring Training, however. Especially when the Marlins were the home team, as approximately 30 reporters followed Ichiro’s every move.

I, however, am a reporter who follows no man. The only person I follow is whoever’s showing me the way to the mound so that I can throw out a ceremonial first pitch.

Just like in Dunedin the night before, I threw a perfect strike.

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The player who caught my first pitch was outfielder Harold Riggins.

“Nice toss,” he told me. “I see you’ve been working.”

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I’m now a Harold Riggins fan. He has the smiling-est headshot in Minor League Baseball.

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It was now almost game time. Riggins and his cronies took the field for the singing of our National Anthem.

034They were joined by local youth.

035The game was underway, the atmosphere pleasant but a little lacking in energy.

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Especially on the concourse:

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It was soon time for my to take my nightly RMS (requisite mascot shot). This one didn’t come out all that well. But please know that this is a shark. A shark named Hamilton R. Head.

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Usually I’m the one pestering people at the ballpark. It’s basically my job. But tonight the tables were turned. Tuesdays are “Knothole Gang Kids Club” nights at Roger Dean Stadium, and one of the recurring features of such a night is a “Knothole Gang Scavenger Hunt.”

Thus, I became the hunted.

IMG_0941It was funny — and flattering — to be approached by random kids asking to take their pictures with me. They had no idea who I am, but that’s okay. Neither does anyone else.

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While not posing for selfies with local youth, I interviewed Roger Dean general manager Mike Bauer about what it’s like to transition from Major League Spring Training to the Florida State League. Some relevant excerpts from the ensuing MiLB.com story, which helps put the sleepy Tuesday night that I am currently documenting in context.

“It’s truly a challenge within the Florida State League, having two teams, because 140 games is a lot of games. You lose a sense of ‘Hey, catch ’em all’ because we’re here every day. But during the Minor League season we have a chance to let our hair down a little bit, do Kids Club activities and promotions like barbecue festivals and ‘Star Wars Night’ and all those things that the families enjoy. Whereas Spring Training is a little more black and white. It’s about baseball and the food. That’s what it is.”

“[In the Florida State League] we don’t market an equal number of Palm Beach and Hammerheads games. We market the weekends and we market the holidays however they fall, because the arrangement is that, although they’re two separate teams, financially it’s all one pot. [The Marlins and Cardinals] go in together and split everything down the middle.”

After talking with Bauer I met with my designated eater for the evening, but we’ll save that for the next post. Once that had concluded, night had fallen. How dramatic.

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Lottery tickets were awarded to lucky fans atop the dugout.

052And, of course, jokes were told.

I then visited the broadcast booth, witnessing Paul Heinzkill on the play-by-play.

053When I expressed confusion re: Paul’s last name, he told me “It’s ketchup [Heinz] and kill. Yeah, I’ve got mustard on my shirt but it’s ketchup.” Heinzkill then vacated the booth, and I did an inning on the radio with broadcaster Lisa Pride. Thanks, Lisa.

The view from the top:

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Toward the end of the ballgame, I start to get a little loopy.

Finally, I stopped by the team store.

054Merchandise manager Linda Hanson told me that this store did $1.1 million of revenue during Spring Training, with the number one selling item being a “red, adjustable, Spring Training-themed St. Louis Cardinals hat.” Approximately 8,000 of these were sold.

“We’d have a line 40-50 deep of people just waiting to get in the store,” said Hanson, adding that the merchandise could quickly be “flipped” depending on whether the home team was the Cardinals or the Marlins.

When I was talking to Hanson, the game ended. The Threshers won, 6-1, in a game that took two hours and 44 minutes to play in front of a crowd of 927.

Finally, some urinal ads for you to enjoy from the Roger Dean men’s room. Sorry that I don’t have streaming video.

IMG_0946New blog posts will keep trickling in as well. Stay tuned.

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benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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On the Road: Journeying Far Afield in Jupiter

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

Roger Dean Stadium is located in Jupiter, Florida. More specifically, it is located in Abacoa, a planned community within Jupiter that includes both residential and commercial districts as well as ample public outdoor space.

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I barely had the chance to explore Abacoa, but my initial impression was that it was beautiful but also disconcerting. It seemed surreal to me, choosing to live within such a controlled, self-contained environment. I’m saying this as a nouveau Brooklynite who once got turned away from my local laundromat because an episode of Girls was filming there. What is real, anyway?

Let’s go check out a Minor League Baseball stadium.

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Walking down this idyllic paved road leads one to an idyllic stadium exterior. Welcome to Roger Dean Stadium.

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Roger Dean Stadium: it’s a busy place! This facility, which opened in 1998, is the Spring Training home of the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins. Then, during the season, it is the home of both the Cardinals and Marlins’ Florida State League affiliates (the Palm Beach Cardinals and Jupiter Hammerheads, respectively). It also hosts the rookie-level Gulf Coast League affiliates of both organizations — who play on the backfields — as well as a wide variety of youth, high school and collegiate baseball tournaments. Between Spring Training and the Florida State League, the main field hosts some 170 professional baseball games a year.

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In February of 2014, I wrote a story about all of this activity. A relevant excerpt:

Roger Dean Stadium was built in 1998 with the specific intent of accommodating two teams, and therefore each tenant has its own clubhouse, practice fields and training facilities. During its first six seasons of existence, the ballpark hosted the Cardinals and Montreal Expos, but after the latter team dissolved, a series of transactions resulted in the Marlins organization taking their place.

“What we have is a partnership between the two teams called Jupiter Stadium Limited, and I’m the general manager of that partnership,” said Roger Dean general manager Mike Bauer, going on to explain that the “Roger Dean” moniker is the result of a naming rights deal with a local car dealership.

There’s a lot of ground to cover at a place like this. Almost as soon as I arrived at the ballpark, assistant general manager Alex Inman and marketing and promotions manager Jeffrey Draluck gave me a golf cart-assisted tour of the ample back fields. Both the Cardinals and the Marlins have their own quad, as well as an additional half-field, three sets of batting cages and three bullpen mounds.

It all adds up to 110 acres of baseball-centric land. This panorama is the only photo I got that remotely comes close to conveying the vastness.

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Here we are on the Marlins side of the action. The half-field there on the right side is named “The Bone Yard,” after Marlins infield coach Perry “Bone” Hill. (Not to be confused with me, Ben “Bone” Hill.)

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Bone is widely regarded as one the best — if not the best — infield coaches in baseball. Here’s a short video of him in action, filmed during 2015 Spring Training. As you’ll notice, these back fields are open to the public, giving fans a chance to see the players hone their skills in an intimate environment.

Next up was to check out the clubhouses. Specifically, the Cardinals clubhouse, as the Marlins’ clubhouse was in use by the Jupiter Hammerheads (the home team on the evening I was in town).

This locker room is used by the big league Cardinals in Spring Training. During the season, the Palm Beach Cardinals take over. Pretty nice accommodations for the Class A Advanced level, eh?

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The clubhouse snack offerings include Grinds. I once wrote a story about Grinds.

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In the hallway, we passed cubbyholes stacked with fan mail for the Cardinals players. The big stack there on the left was mail addressed to Michael Wacha. Hopefully it’ll make its way to St. Louis at some point soon.

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Also in the hallway — banners celebrating Minor League championships won by Cardinal affiliates.

It is important to note, however, that during Spring Training the clubhouses are strictly segregated by class. I was told that, one year, Cardinals Major League players (jokingly?) put up stanchions to keep Minor Leaguers from entering their hallowed ground.

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The Minor League Spring Training clubhouse looks like this. Once the season starts it is used by guys in Extended Spring Training and, later, the Gulf Coast League.

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All players have access to the weight room, but class distinctions remain.

IMG_0934The training room…

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…complete with the requisite accoutrements.

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If a refresher course on the human anatomy is needed, then Yadier’s got you covered.

023 I didn’t get to visit the Marlins clubhouse — there were Hammerheads in there — but I was told that it’s pretty much the same as the Cardinals (minus the signage).

026 I, meanwhile, welcome you to read the next post in this Roger Dean blogging series. It will cover that evening’s ballgame, between the Hammerheads and visiting Clearwater Threshers.

Shark fight!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

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