Results tagged ‘ On the Road ’
The last “Return to the Road” dispatch ended with some pictures from what I declared to be the swankiest team lodging in all of Minor League Baseball — Tacoma’s Hotel Murano. And from the Murano this post shall begin.
The Murano’s hallways offer guests the chance to view a “private collection of some of the world’s finest contemporary glass treasures.” Each of the hotel’s 24 floors showcase a different artist; I, on the 23rd, was located within the realm of Mr. Hiroshi Yamano.
The Murano’s focus on glass artisans was no mere act of random whimsy — Tacoma is home to the Museum of Glass, in recognition of the influence that artists from the Pacific Northwest have had on the medium. So when I set out to briefly explore downtown Tacoma before heading to Everett, the Museum of Glass was my destination.
Along the way I passed this statue, without stopping to learn who this woman was and what she stood for.
Union Station — formerly a train station, currently a courthouse — had charm, style and panache to spare.
As did the statue out front, entitled “New Beginnings.” It was installed as part of the city’s 1984 centennial celebration, and the man depicted is an early 20th-century railroad passenger with a jaunty step and optimistic world outlook.
Inspired, I strolled through Tacoma’s downtown with the same levity of spirit I imagined the above bronzed passenger to have once possessed.
Finally (and by “finally” I mean “within 5 minutes”) I came to a vantage point which included the conical Museum of Glass as part of the backdrop.
Of course, time is always at a premium when I’m on the road. So as opposed to actually going into the museum, I just checked out the glass specimens lining both sides of a pedestrian bridge that led to the museum.
The view from the ground.
Anti-climactic as it may be, that’s all I’ve got from Tacoma. My next destination was Everett, whose team hotel was a Holiday Inn.
I knew I was in the right place when, upon parking, I looked up to see a team bus poking through the trees.
And while this Holiday Inn lacked some of the Hotel Murano’s more memorable amenities (for instance, I was not able to have the Bhagavad Gita delivered to my room), it did boast what is certainly the most wonderful view of any Minor League team hotel.
I attended that evening’s Everett AquaSox game, and wrote like crazy all about it. (In fact, my writing was so passionately incendiary that even the links to it have since burned up.) Time was even tighter than usual the following afternoon, as an international journey (to Vancouver) awaited me. Nonetheless, I spent about an hour wandering about in downtown Everett before getting lunch at a Thai restaurant and then resuming my travels in earnest.
Everett had character, and I’d love to return some day.
Lunchtime! (Use of exclamation mark extremely debatable)
After that it was goodbye to the antiquated signage of Everett…
and hello to Peace Arch National Park, my entryway to Canada.
Peace Arch Park was beautifully maintained, and as a big fan of Paul Robeson I enjoyed driving through the locations of one of his most significant public performances. From Wikipedia:
In 1952, African-American singer and activist Paul Robeson, banned from international travel during the Red Scares, performed several concerts at the site. He sang from a flatbed truck on the American side to an audience in Canada.
And would you believe that the Peace Arch was built by Sam Hill, the peripatetic Quaker who constructed the full-size Stonehenge replica which I had visited several days prior? That guy was real go-getter, and as a slow-moving and rapidly-stagnating blogger I can’t help but feel that I’m not quite living up to the high surname standards he established.
It took approximately forever to get into Canada, and I pity those who have to cross the border on a regular basis. I did enjoy the interrogation I received from the border guard, who tried to poke holes in my “Minor League Baseball writer traveling to Canada in order to cover the Vancouver Canadians” alibi.
Guard: And how long have you been writing about the Minor Leagues?
Me: Seven years.
Guard: If you’ve been doing this for that long, then why is this the first time you’ve visited Vancouver?
I explained, as succinctly as possible, that Vancouver was the only Canadian team in the Minors and that, therefore, visiting Canada as part of my job was not, nor was it going to be, a common professional occurrence. (In fact, I was looking at it the highlight of a perpetually uncertain odyssey that began with writing game recaps on the night shift on a part-time, hourly basis. What I wanted to say was “Look, lady, you should be proud of me that I’m here talking to you at all.” I then would have felt an overwhelming sense of guilt for referring to her impolitely as “lady.”)
I’m not sure who’s bored-er at this point — the guard or the straggling few readers who have stuck with this post to the end. So, anyway, yeah: I made it to Canada, and I have the fake money to prove it.
The road will be returned to (at least) once more, with all of the supplemental content that’s fit to post from the wilds of Vancouver. Stay tuned for another installment of the most low-stakes and meandering series of blog posts to be found on the internet…
I was out of town for the last five days or so, and during my time away the fifth anniversary of the first post in Ben’s Biz Blog history came and went. My original plan had been to commemorate this milestone in some way, but instead it just kind of slipped by whilst on its quick path to complete and total obsolescence.
So, yeah, this blog is now five years old. Celebrate at will. As for me, I’ll just do what I do best: relive the recent past! As you may recall, my last post in the apparently never-ending “Return to the Road” series covered the beautiful scenery to be found betwixt Salem, OR and Yakima, WA. Today, then, picks up in Yakima (home of the since-relocated Bears) and travels northwest to Tacoma (home of the not-going-anywhere Rainiers).
The day started with me following a reader tip: get lunch at Miner’s, an iconic Yakima fast food joint.
I was smitten with this establishment as soon as I arrived, if not a bit confused. Somehow, I managed to bypass the entire drive-thru lane. (And is that a strange location for a house or what? Not sure if I’d want my front lawn obscured by huge fast food menus).
Instead, I ended up in a lot immediately adjacent to a spacious outdoor eating area.
Also spacious: the inside.
I placed my order, was given a number, and then walked approximately a third of a mile away to a back room seating area.
And here, inevitably, is where I end up disappointing you. As much as I’d have liked to, the celiac disease prevented me from ordering a Big Miner Burger. Or any kind of burger. In fact, the bun-heavy and oft-breaded menu made the whole experience a bit fraught for gluten-averse individuals such as myself. So while I’d like to present you with a photo of this 64-year-old establishment’s signature item, instead here are some fries posing amidst an array of dipping sauces and a vanilla milkshake. I do my best.
After that it was time to hit the open road. And I do mean open, and I also mean road.
I would have been content to drive amid such vast expanses for a good 10 hours or so, while listening to the first 33 seconds of this Dr. John song a million times over. The drive was far less than my wished-for 600 minutes, unfortunately, but before re-entering more populated areas I did have the pleasure of stopping at this well-advertised establishment.
And — look! — within this vast expanse of commercial real estate they even cater to afflicted souls such as myself.
I bought an array of groceries. The bottle of Moxie cola was later confiscated at the Vancouver airport, and I have no idea what became of the mustard. None at all. It just vanished on me.
The next destination was the Hotel Murano, located in downtown Tacoma. Of the dozens of Minor League team hotels I’ve stayed in over the last several years this was the most expensive. And also, by far, the nicest. (In fact, I’m still kind of in awe that this was a team hotel.)
The Hotel Murano had an uber-hip intercontinental vibe, complete with Teutonic dance music music pumping in the lobby, but it wasn’t not so exclusive that they won’t enter into an enthusiastic partnership with a Pacific Coast League franchise. (Hotel Murano ads could be seen throughout the Rainiers’ Cheney Stadium).
The nighttime exterior:
with a view.
I’m still kicking myself for not having the Bhagavad Gita sent up to my room.
Some of the other in-room signage was less spiritually minded, however.
“Goodnight Tacoma!” said the moron in the Murano.
That moron was me.
The Pacific Northwest is a beautiful part of the country. So when I went on a road trip to that region at the end of the season, this was something that was written in all caps in my notebook to-do list: EXPERIENCE BEAUTY.
Of course, time is tight when I’m on the road and often the most beautiful thing I see over the course of a given 24-hour period is a particularly well-constructed plate of nachos. But this was most emphatically NOT the case on the third day of this Pacific Northwest road trip. The day began in Salem, Ore. at which point I had to drive about four and a half hours northwest to Yakima. And this drive, it was absolutely gorgeous!
I opted to travel along the Historic Columbia River Highway (scenery over expediency!), and shortly into the journey I arrived at Vista House.
The Vista House was built in 1918, as both a rest stop and pioneer memorial. An informational plaque located outside of the building says that “Samuel C. Lancaster, design engineer of the Historic Columbia River Highway, envisioned this outcropping as the ideal site for a rest stop and observatory where the Gorge ‘could be viewed in silent communion with the infinite.’”
I realize that America in 1918 was far from an ideal society, but sentiments such as that are phenomenal and indicative of a spiritually-informed progressive public mindedness that seems to be in short supply here in the 21st century.
As for the building specifically, “[A]rchitect Edgar Lazarus designed Vista House to ‘recall the ancient and mystic Thor’s crown.’ Braced against the famous Gorge winds, this small building embodies strength.” (I would like to think that growing up amidst such scenery and sentiment is what inspires Oregon-based bands such as Yob to write such awesomely heavy songs.)
Exploration opportunities abounded along Scenic Route 30, and I took advantage to the extent that I was able. As a collector of Victorian-era bridal veils, I decided that a walk along Bridal Veil Falls Trail would be most apropos.
After a 2/3rds of a mile “journey,” I reached the titular attraction.
I was unprepared to do so, and therefore didn’t, but I really can’t think of a better place in which to go swimming.
Keep in mind that all of this is only about 25 miles outside of Portland! To be able to live in a vibrant urban area with such close proximity to nature would be truly phenomenal.
The next stop was Multnomah Falls, one of the most visually stunning, accessible and therefore best-known waterfalls in the state.
I guess it’s only natural that Multnomah would have a downfall, and that is that it’s almost too accessible. It was tough to find a parking spot at the visitor’s center, and the scenic bridge seen above was packed to the gills with camera-toting fools such as myself.
The view in the other direction:
Back at the base of the falls, I had an appropriately outdoorsy lunch of smoked trout on (gluten-free!) almond crackers.
There was certainly much more to be seen and explored in the vicinity of Multnomah Falls, but time constraints (the bane of modern existence) were such that I cruised right on into the state of Washington — via the incredibly-named Bridge of the Gods.
Wikipedia informs me (and, by extension, us) that the Bridge of the Gods was named after a “famous geologic event.” Okay, then, Wikipedia. You may as well fill us in on what that was all about:
The Bridge of the Gods was a natural dam created by the Bonneville Slide, a major landslide that dammed the Columbia River near present-day Cascade Locks, Oregon in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. The river eventually breached the bridge and washed much of it away, but the event is remembered in local legends of the Native Americans as the Bridge of the Gods.
As for the bridge itself (as in the bridge I was driving across, not the one of local legend), it provided great views but I didn’t really see any places to pull over. So I just snapped a few quick pictures as I drove across at a very low speed.
And then — bam! — Washington. The greenery was dense.
From here I got on the Lewis and Clark Highway, yet another incredibly scenic road that made me happy to be alive. Working my way eastward, the landscape gradually flattened out and took on a sunbaked and vaguely extra-terrestrial sort of hue.
The above photo was taken at the Maryhill Museum of Art, an unexpectedly expansive establishment.
But I was at the museum mistakenly. What I was looking for turned out to be just a bit up the road.
A full-size replica Stonehenge!
Called the “Stonehenge Memorial,” this structure was built by the pioneering Quaker entrepreneur Sam Hill. Why? The website of the Maryhill Museum of Art explains thusly:
During World War I, Hill delivered relief supplies to Belgium and Russia, and reinforced his interest in travel. While in England, he made his first trip to see Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain where he was told that the structure was believed to be constructed by Druids as a place of human sacrifice.
Hill concluded there was a similarity between the loss of life in this, the greatest of human wars, and the sacrifices of ancient Stonehenge and planned to build a replica of it on the cliffs of the Columbia as a reminder of those sacrifices and the “incredible folly” of the war.
The architecture and precise plan of the structure was guided by leading authorities on archaeology, astronomy, and engineering who combined their knowledge to duplicate, as nearly as possible, the original size and design of the ancient Neolithic ruin in England.
I think at this point I was almost numb to how beautiful everything was. What a country.
50 yards from his quixotic creation, one finds the tomb of Sam Hill. “Amid nature’s great unrest, he sought rest.”
My Mom has told me that she had wanted to name me Sam, but didn’t because it would be associated with the phrase “What in the Sam Hill?” (in which Sam Hill stands in as a euphemism for hell). No one seems to know for sure where that particular expression came from, but it apparently has nothing to do with the Samuel Hill who is buried at the Stonehenge Memorial. (Wikipedia, suddenly my source for everything, makes that clear.)
So what in the Sam Hill am I doing living on the east coast when such splendor is readily available out west?
That, my friends, is a query for another day. For now I’d simply like to extend my gratitude to Jared Ravich, a Pacific Northwest-based Senior Technical Producer here with MLB Advanced Media whose thoughtful suggestions provided me with the template for this most memorable afternoon.
We have now entered the month of October, and in the world of MiLB.com this means one thing: it’s MiLBY season! For those who, somehow, inexplicably, are unaware, the MiLBYs represent our annual attempt to create order from the chaos via an online vote that will determine the top players, plays and promos of the season that just was.
The MiLBYs are a present-day concern, but here on the blog the endless summer of 2012 remains the fixation. Today marks the first in a new series of “Return to the Road” posts, in which we return to the Pacific Northwest for all of the non-ballpark content that’s fit to print from my August road trip. That particular trip began on a Saturday in Eugene and when you’re in Eugene on a Saturday then what better thing to do than visit the Saturday market?
The Saturday Market runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in downtown Eugene, from April through November. Approximately 300 vendors sell their hand-crafted and oft-edible wares, and a loose bohemian vibe prevails. Some scenes from the market:
Roasting some chili peppers. This would be a great ballpark snack, right?
The highlight of the Saturday Market wandering was meeting Bag Man, who seeks to eradicate that which he is composed of. It’s a great cause!
Also wandering about the Market was Eugene Emeralds general manager Allan Benavides and his family. They suggested a stop at the iconic Voodoo Doughnuts, which got its start in Portland and now has a Eugene location located right next to Ken Kesey Square.
The menu is rated PG-13, as double entendres abound.
Good things come in pink boxes, they say.
But none of these good things, not a single one, was gluten-free.
Therefore, I outsourced my doughnut eating duties to Benavides and his son Christian. On the right there is the bacon maple, one of Voodoo’s most famous offerings. Christian opted for some sort of Froot Loops-enhanced creation.
Next door to Voodoo Doughnuts is the aforementioned Ken Kesey Square, which pays tribute to the counter-cultural icon and long-time Eugene native. The Eugene Storefront Art Project had set up shop here, raising awareness of their mission to place short-term exhibits in empty Eugene storefronts.
Later Benavides and I took a quick drive through Eugene’s eccentric Whiteaker neighborhood.
I stared at this for 3.5 hours.
Our final destination was Civic Stadium, which was built in 1938 and first hosted Minor League Baseball in 1955. The Emeralds played their last season there in 2009, and since then the facility (which is owned by the Eugene school district) has fallen into a considerable state of disrepair. Its future is still very much in doubt, although there is a dedicated “Save Civic Stadium” volunteer group working diligently to find viable 21st century options for the old park.
Civic Stadium is located in a residential neighborhood, and many fans used to simply walk to the game. The Emeralds’ move to PK Park, which they lease from the University of Oregon, therefore represented a remarkably different ballpark experience (Benavides’ first season with the team coincided with the move to PK Park, and it has been a considerable challenge to acclimate the team’s fans to this totally new Minor League reality).
Our access, it was restricted.
The playing surface has clearly seen better days.
Behind the stadium lurks a beautiful view.
And if you’re lucky, you may get a glimpse of some truly alternative forms of transportation. (You just gotta love Eugene. I was only there for two nights, but in that time became completely accustomed to seeing quirky people doing quirky things. It’s just how that town rolls.)
So, yeah, that’ll do it for all of my content from Eugene. The next morning I left this small metropolis and its outsized eccentricity and set out on the road to Salem, OR. Shortly into this journey, I became enamored with the following dining establishment.
This place had a powerful aesthetic appeal, but I did not eat there as it was very crowded on a late Sunday morning and I always feel very self-conscious eating at crowded restaurants by myself. But just down the road there was a Mexican joint!
Thank goodness for Mexican restaurants. In this gluten-free reality in which I find myself, they have proven themselves to be an ever-reliable culinary option. This plate of food, I salute you:
Next up in this “Return to the Road” series: a day of stunning natural beauty in Oregon, en route from Salem to Yakima.
Over their first five years of existence the Lehigh Valley IronPigs have been a rousing success, and in 2012 they once again led all of Minor League Baseball in attendance. I have visited the team on several occasions, the most recent of which are documented HERE and HERE.
On a personal level, I am pleased by the IronPigs’ exemplary operation because they provide that much more reason to visit the Lehigh Valley specifically and Pennsylvania in general (I grew up in neighboring Montgomery County, in the town of Ambler). Last month a group of friends and I spent a weekend in the region, which is documented in this “Return to the Road” post. The purpose, as always, is to document the myriad ways in which a trip to a Minor League Baseball ballpark can be combined with other regional activities.
Ben’s Biz Blog: Exploring the country through Minor League Baseball, one stadium at a time. Let’s go!
This particular Lehigh Valley excursion began in the town of Nazareth, home of the esteemed Martin Guitar company.
Martin Guitars was established in 1833, and is now in its sixth generation of family ownership. Free factory tours are offered daily, and a museum detailing the company’s history is located on the premises as well. The tour was free, although there were strings attached in that there were literally strings attached.
From Nazareth it’s a short drive into Allentown, where we had lunch at the unassuming and welcoming Wert’s Cafe.
I enjoyed my meal here, but this was a case were the restrictions of a gluten-free diet become quite pronounced. No sandwiches, no pies, and no signature onion rings for me! But one regional specialty that I was able to sample was birch beer on tap! I had never had such a thing.
Central Pennsylvania is a haven for birch beer enthusiasts, and in past visits I have been simultaneously confused and delighted by the many varieties. I was certainly confused by the tap offering seen above, at first thinking that the waitress had brought me an actual beer of the mass produced pilsner variety. I enjoyed its smooth, sweet taste, but no ice and low carbonation made it a beverage experience that took some getting used to.
After lunch, Ben’s Biz Blog guest-post writer Steve May suggested that we visit Allentown’s Double Decker records. Great idea!
The store’s exterior may not inspire, but the inside is another story.
Double Decker had a great selection of vinyl both new and used, representing a vast cross-section of (mostly) American music. The store boasts a passionate clientele, whose frequent browsing helped to insure a high turnover rate when it comes to what’s in the bins. If I lived in the area, Double Decker would quickly become part of an early Saturday afternoon routine.
Of course, I couldn’t help but add to my own collection (cat sold separately).
One album I considered buying was Blues Control’s “Valley Tangents,” and I really wish I had. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the band had re-located to Lehigh Valley to record the album (hence its title), and there is even a track titled “Iron Pigs.” This song is awesome and I think it should be played during extra innings at Iron Pigs games once things start to get a little surreal.
As for us, it was indeed time for another valley tangent, as the record store was located quite nearby to the Playdrome Rose Bowl!
I did not bowl nearly as well as I am capable of, but my form remains impeccable. (A rant for another day: Why are 16-pound house balls so hard to find at many bowling alleys?)
Two games of bowling was the opening act — the day’s headline event was, of course, the IronPigs.
As you know, this particular IronPigs experience has already been chronicled in copious (some would say excessive) detail. But instead of ending this post, I’d like to extend my definition of “Lehigh Valley” to include Elysburg, PA. This humble burg is home to Knoebel’s Amusement Park and for my money (the only money I’m spending these days), Knoebels is the best amusement park in the country — It’s family-run, and there is a level of quality and attention to detail that permeates every aspect of the operation. (Plus, there’s no admission charge! One pays with tickets on a per-ride basis, and a $20 ticket pack has always lasted me throughout the entirety of the day).
The Knoebel’s parking lot, buffeted by rolling hills and formidable cloud cover.
A pickle on a stick and birch beer (in this case a sparkling white) can be had for $2.50, total.
Getting the lay of the land.
The mighty ferris wheel, from below and above.
There was a Theater of Magic pinball machine on the premises. I left my mark.
Each of these airplanes has a built-in rudder, which one can manipulate for maximum aerial advantage.
I miss summer already.
My favorite of all carnival games — you have to roll the bowling ball with enough force to get it over the hump, but delicately enough where it doesn’t simply roll right back to where it started.
A metaphor for life, because what isn’t?
The Haunted House is scary.
“Fascination,” in addition to being an awesome name for a game, is extremely addicting. It’s a form of bingo, basically, in which you fill your card by rolling a ball into numbered holes.
The bumper cars are world class.
As night fell, a large crowd had gathered to see a rock n roll revival show. The band, whose name I cannot recall, devoted the set to covers from each of the Beatles’ solo careers.
So, yeah: Knoebels. It is an awesome place, as is the Lehigh Valley, as is Pennsylvania. I’ll leave it at that, but please know my love extends to all corners like the ever-expanding tentacles of an obtrusive octopus.
Talk to you later.
This may be the first Ben’s Biz Blog post to appear in autumn, but the content remains rooted in the (seemingly) endless summer of 2012. Today we return, one last time, to the city of Memphis. I attended a game at AutoZone Park on June 12, and the following morning had a bit more time to explore before heading to the next destination of Jackson, TN.
One of the first sights I came across after departing the Sleep Inn in which I had been sequestered was this unorthodox art “battle.” Ghostly cowboy vs. tank-driving alien: who ya got?
From there, a bit of wandering soon brought me to this Memphis institution.
The Orpheum, 84-years young and (allegedly) haunted, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. Also occurring in 1977 was the death of Mr. Elvis Presley — a nearby statue commemorates how he appeared in his prime, far removed from Me Decade degeneration.
I didn’t have the time to make it to Graceland this time around, but that remains a goal. (In the meantime I’ll just be hanging out here in New York City, looking for the human trampoline.) Walking along Main Street, I found a more recent example of a Memphis-based musical striver.
It’s easy to make fun of a dude named “Lil Wyte,” but he’s found a way to make a living as a rapper for 10+ years (largely via his own label) and that is something that takes a tremendous amount of hard work and dedication. I’m not all that into his style of hip-hop, but he has my respect. (In a perfect world, my Minor League Baseball road trips would be coupled with profiles of local rappers and doom metal bands, as a way of more fully being able to capture the personality of the city in question. But, for now, you’re left with out-of-focus pictures of telephone pole advertisements).
These wanderings through the relative desolation of Memphis’ Main Street did have a final destination: the Lorraine Motel. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated here in 1968, and the building has since been expanded into the National Civil Rights Museum.
Also part of the museum is this area directly across the street, which includes the perch from which Ray fired the fateful bullet.
I did not have enough time to tour the museum proper, but I did engage in a conversation with one of its biggest detractors.
That shadowy figure is one Jacqueline Smith, a former resident of the Lorraine Hotel who has since dedicated her life to railing against the museum. I went into the conversation with the intent of being receptive to her point of view — Ms. Smith is a life-long Memphis resident with a personal connection to the Lorraine Motel, and there is clearly much to be said about the mixed effects of gentrification as well as the mainstream co-option and subsequent neutering of radical modes of thought. But Ms. Smith has been on her single-minded crusade for so long that there isn’t any nuance whatsoever in her viewpoints (if there ever was). She told me that “black people who visit here are brainwashed” and that a “good white person is like finding a $3 bill,” and put me in a thoroughly no-win situation. If I agreed with any aspect of what she said, she’d berate me for my lazily acquiescence (“You don’t know anything, you don’t read anything, you just shake your head and say ‘yeah.’”). But if I disagreed, I was characterized as simply the latest deluded soul to wander by her quixotic encampment.
It was frustrating, to say the least, and I replayed the conversation in my head for hours afterward. (Being sensitive and overly-analytical is hard work!) My final conclusion was that her dismissive and oft-hateful viewpoints were a more substantial desecration of Dr. King’s memory than any aspect of the museum itself. But what do I know? She’s been camping out at that spot for 23 years. I wandered through during the course of an unfocused early afternoon.
Look, here’s a picture of a restaurant. I took it myself.
Did you know? The Arcade is Memphis’ oldest restaurant, and inside there is an “Elvis Booth” in memory of one of the establishment’s most dedicated customers.
The downtown walk continued to reveal locations both boarded up and still vital…
But, as always, my ultimate destination was a baseball stadium. The Redbirds were playing an early afternoon contest at AutoZone Park, so before heading on my way to Jackson I stopped in for the final few innings. This brief “fan mode” respite, I enjoyed it.
One last glimpse of the largest videoboard in Minor League Baseball.
The RedBirds mounted a ninth-inning rally (three singles and a walk to start the frame), but in the end they couldn’t push across that crucial winning run. Final score Nashville 5, Memphis 4.
And with that, I left Memphis — but not before an attempt to find a meal on Elvis Presley Blvd. I ended up at Jack Pirtle’s, a Memphis institution that served up some quick and tasty fried chicken. (This would turn out to be the final time I enjoyed fried chicken, as upon my return from this trip I began a gluten-free diet.)
Livers and gizzards were on the menu, but I went with a good old-fashioned two piece meal.
You know what was in that cup, just beneath the fries?
Gravy. There was gravy in the cup.
Thus concludes all the odds-and-sods “Return to the Road” material that I have, not just from Memphis but the entire OKARKMOTN road trip. I hope you enjoy this sort of thing, because later in the week it’ll be time to “return to the road” once again. Next up, Pacific Northwest!
There’s a lot going on throughout the season, and therefore it can be tough to keep track of all the narrative threads that are dangling around me at all times (they taunt me, these threads). One thread that has been neglected since those halcyon days of late July is that which chronicled the non-baseball goings-ons of my MiLB.com-sponsored trip to Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee. The previous post in the series ended with this shot — the view from the hotel parking lot after I arrived in the city of Memphis (home of the Redbirds).
“Jefferson Davis was fronting Deep Purple,” I wrote at the time, and I stand by this bon mot.
The Redbirds were in the midst of a ballgame when I arrived, but my plans with the team were for the next night (that evening is chronicled HERE). I therefore decided that my first order of business, as it so often is, would be to procure a meal. I began meandering about in downtown Memphis, and along the way got my first glimpse of AutoZone Park (home of the Redbirds).
My first choice for dinner was the very well-known and loved (and perhaps a wee bit touristy) Memphis institution known as “Charlie Vergo’s Rendezvous.” But upon making my way to the eponymous alleyway which houses this establishment, I made the disconcerting discovery that it was closed on Mondays.
It was getting late, and I was tired, and seemingly everyone I encountered on the largely empty streets expressed the desire to show me a “good time” of some sort. These claims were of dubious validity and possibly nefarious intent, and I was beginning to feel a little besieged. So I took the path of least resistance and headed to the tourist mecca that is Beale Street. By Beale Street standards, the vibe was positively sedate.
I chose to patronize this presumably iconic establishment: the Blues City Cafe.
Where were you on the night that the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup? I was here, in full-on “awkward guy eating alone” mode, indulging in this meal at a rather desultory bar seating area.
Blues City Cafe claimed to have the best ribs in Memphis, but I cannot confirm nor deny as they were the only ribs I had in Memphis. Of more pressing concern to me, as I look at this photo, was the extent to which this meal was or wasn’t gluten-free (I adopted a gluten-free diet immediately upon returning from this trip, after being diagnosed with celiac disease). Eating in restaurants has become fraught with the unknown — what are the ingredients in the ribs? The baked beans? The cole slaw? The fries are gluten free, but what else was in the fryer? Who knows? Who cares? Why, in a blog ostensibly devoted to the business of Minor League Baseball, are you writing in hand-wringing fashion about a meal from nearly three months ago?
Time to blow this joint, but not before a little bit more narcissism. On the way back to the Sleep Inn, I noticed an alleyway which commemorated what happens to be the day on which I was born.
But why? The answer, courtesy of an article in Time magazine, is not one I would have expected:
[November 6th Street] commemorates the day in 1934 when Memphis, urged on by its utility-baiting political boss, the late Edward H. (“Mister”) Crump, voted against private power and for the Tennessee Valley Authority power system (it was the first major city to enter TVA).
In today’s political climate, such a resounding defeat of private enterprise would result in hysterical accusations of an impending government takeover by those secretly in thrall to Bolshevik theories. But maybe that was also the case in 1934? Who really does know? What I do know is that I had the entire next day to spend in Memphis. It began with some frenzied writing from the hotel room, which offered a great view for those seeking voyeuristic white-collar thrills.
The inexorable passage of time meant that another meal was in order, and I’ll write about this one sans-celiac hand-wringing. The destination was Cozy Corner, recommended by loyal road trip recommender Rex Doane. As soon as I pulled into the parking lot, I knew that it was gonna be good.
At this friendly and unassuming spot, one orders at the counter and then retreats to the dining area to await the comestibles that will soon be brought forth.
I ordered a Cozy Corner specialty, which was something one does not have the opportunity to order often: Cornish Game Hen. It was delicious!
After leaving the Cozy Corner, I made a pit stop at another Rex-recommended establishment: Shangri-La Records.
Record stores are my favorite of all establishments, and Shangri-La had an eclectic selection and very appealing sensibilities (with an emphasis on Memphis music, including that which has been released on their eponymous label). I was feeling a bit rushed, in that I had a ballgame to get to, and was therefore not on top of my record store game. But I did purchase the following:
Starting at the top and moving clockwise, that’s James Gang “Rides Again,” Bruce Springsteen “The Rising,” Rufus Thomas “Crown Prince of Dance,” Creedence Clearwater Revival “Mardi Gras,” and Oneida/Liars “Atheists Reconsider” split. I could discuss the motivations behind each purchase, but am already feeling a bit self-conscious re: the insertion of myself into this post.
So, y’know, I’ll just continue talking about myself. Inspired by my hotel bed record arrangement, I did the same with the road snacks I had accumulated. Three observations regarding this picture:
1.Despite being part of a snack food monolith, Doritos has become downright avant-garde in its relentless pursuit of new flavors and ways in which to present them.
2. Pork cracklins are far better than chicken cracklins.
3. When I am on the road and in a region in which cracklins are available, I quickly become addicted to them. As in, literally cannot stop eating them. (They are crazily unhealthy, so I am actually glad that they aren’t available here in the northeast.)
Finally, mercifully, it became time to head to AutoZone Park. This establishment was along the way, but I resisted from shelling out more of my cash toward the sort of food products I was already eating too much of. But, my goodness, it was tough to resist.
Also tough to resist: the urge to stop writing. This narrative thread has been pursued enough for today, but, as always, there’s more where that came from.
You may recall last month’s post from Lehigh Valley, in which I attended an IronPigs game with five friends (no media pass for me that evening, I stayed strictly in “fan mode”). One of the friends who took in this contest was Steve May, a Brooklyn-based English teacher with a penchant for photography, the works of Tyson Meade and, of course, the written word. In the following post, Mr. May provides an account of his inaugural IronPigs experience. All words and photos are his.
Finally, a Ben’s Biz Blog post free from the tyrannical perspective of the titular protagonist! Enjoy the brief respite:
A few Fridays ago, I attended a Lehigh Valley IronPigs game with my friend Ben, the man behind this fine Minor League Baseball business blog. The game was part of a yearly trip that Ben, me, and some other friends of ours make to the wilds of the northeastern fourth of Pennsylvania. The trip is part escape and part homecoming, as most of us are longtime New Yorkers originally from Pennsylvania; for summer to feel like summer, we need to get out on the road somewhere, go on roller coasters and dark rides, eat soft-serve and kettle corn, and be around baseball. What better place to achieve close proximity to the National Pastime than Coca-Cola Park in Allentown?
Please forgive the fact that I didn’t really take any other photos for the first few innings. There were nachos grande and beer to be devoured and inhaled, respectively. Also I found myself roped into participating in a spirited between-inning round of Whack-an-Intern. Faced with wardrobe malfunctions, a partisan crowd, uncooperative intern heads, and formidable competition in the form of my good friend Beth, I came up a mere three whacks short of a tie. Afterwards, some interns alleged rough treatment on my part. (Ask yourself this question: If you were in my shoes, up against the considerable odds with which I was faced, would you tap softly or go hard? Yeah, that’s what I thought.)
Still reeling from my defeat, looking to put the sting behind me with the help of an adult beverage, I headed in the direction of the outfield Paradise. On the way, I was surprised to find one of the interns whose head I had too vigorously whacked charming the ladies with a blue puppet with baseball eyes. The intern attempted to charm me, too, but I turned the tables on him and tricked him/the puppet into posing for a face-in-hole photograph.
(ed. note: this whacked intern is none other than Ben “Utility Man” Youngerman, a talented and versatile touring ballpark performer who is no stranger to this blog.)
Following the arrows, I moved past the baseball-themed kiddie-land type situation on the concourse along the third-base line to left field, where Paradise awaited. As if taking in a game at a beautiful Minor League ballpark on a pleasant summer Friday evening following a day spent touring the Martin Guitar Factory for free, scoring ludicrously cheap 70’s-sleaze-era Rolling Stones albums at Double Decker Records, and bowling (!) were not enough.
Margarita or sangria? Should sangria come frozen? Does frozen sangria even count as sangria? Wouldn’t a mai tai be more appropriate? These were my concerns as I weighed the options at the Tiki Hut in Paradise. I eventually settled on sangria; it was the least fluorescent and what I think I secretly wanted in the first place (flip a coin and if you’re disappointed with the result…). The hut, with the obligatory faux-thatched roof, accented with fake palm trees and unlit torches, had all the standard tiki bases covered. Paradise? On a game night in summer, not too far off.
Frozen cocktail in hand, I proceeded to the lawn overlooking center field, where I observed a large number of Boy/Cub Scouts/Webelos; evidently, it was Scout Sleepover Night. My anonymity compromised by my very public and still stingingly recent defeat in Whack-an-Intern, I was confronted by more than one well-meaning uniformed tween. I endured their chidings and constructive criticism with the humility of a man more accustomed to defeat than I am typically willing to accept I am.
At this point, from the field, the Human Bobblehead Game was announced. I looked up at the scoreboard behind me, and there, with pedometers strapped onto their heads, were the aforementioned Ben and Shal. That Ben, who last year logged a million steps on his pedometer [ed. note: the editor logged FOUR million steps on his pedometer], should now find himself in such a situation was completely appropriate; given this familiarity with the quirks of the ‘dometer, he was my pick to win. Shal, though, had an ace in the hole in his status as an unreformed head banger, and proved that he had the fire/desire to win.
What was there to do now but get something else to eat? Moving hurriedly past the speed pitching booth (I didn’t trust the tween hurlers when I was myself a tween), I made my way up the first base line to what has to be one of the most complete food courts in the Minor Leagues. Pretzels? Check. Pizza? Si. Both ice cream and Dippin’ Dots? All these are standard. Steel mill-themed Blast Furnace Grill? Gyros? German-themed beer garden? Truly, Coca-Cola Park has it all. For a New Yorker engaged in the self-conscious search for the lost Pennsylvania August of his youth, all roads necessarily led to “Aw Shucks” Roasted Corn. Four dollars later, I held in my hands a golden ear literally glistening with butter, parm, and spice. After posing with a nearby IronPig, I tore through the corn with the reckless abandon of a man in the grips of acute culinary nostalgia. It was sweet as summer.
Back in the best seats in the house, with the IronPigs holding a commanding 6-0 lead over the visiting Syracuse Chiefs, we were paid a visit by mischievous IronPigs co-mascot FeFe (named after the, you know, symbol for iron on the Periodic Table). In what could only be described as a three-minute thunder run through our section, FeFe sat on laps, climbed over seats, posed for photos, flirted with nonplussed spectators, and otherwise wreaked havoc as only a giant ponytailed anthropomorphic pig can.
How else could such a front-to-back perfect evening have ended but with fireworks? Collectively, the pyrotechnic bursts of molten color served as a reminder that this had been, not just for my crew, a great night. In Allentown as in New York, summer is as fleeting as lights in the night sky over center field. A good idea then to take it in, savor it before it has passed. When, months from now, the wind is bitter cold and all the world seems to be covered with an inch and a half of snow, there will be preserved in the middle distance of our memories a time and place more temperate and pleasant, populated with tiki huts and mascots and surprisingly competitive mid-inning contests. A night at the ballpark.
And thus concludes this guest post; thanks to Steve for taking the time to write it. I am generally amenable to handing this blog over to others, so if you would like to pen a guest post of your own then please get in touch and perhaps something can be arranged. Said post can cover a ballpark experience, share a specific Minor League memory, or advance ideas and initiatives that you’d like to see the industry take under consideration.
I’ve been employed by MiLB.com in various writerly capacities for approximately 2600 days, and in that time have produced more content (good, bad and ugly) than I care to think about. But this content, voluminous as it has been and will continue to be, had never included a blog dispatch chronicling the professional baseball scene in another country.
My latest (and therefore greatest) road trip ended with a two-day stop in Vancouver, home of Canada’s sole remaining Minor League entity: the nothing-if-not-accurately-named Canadians. This franchise, occupants of 60-year-old Nat Bailey Stadium, have been members of the Northwest League since 2000 (prior to this they competed four rungs higher on the Minor League ladder, as entrants within the venerable Pacific Coast League). More information on the Canadians’ history and current operation can be found in this effervescently-written MiLB.com piece, which also includes a photo gallery and links to four interviews I conducted while visiting Nat Bailey (including a chat with Minors Moniker champion Rock Shoulders!).
“The pictures, the pictures, why won’t he get to the pictures!” you’re saying at this point.
I hear you:
Nat Bailey (named after the restauranteur/baseball supporter who founded the famous-in-Canada “White Spot” chain) is, in every sense, a classic ballpark. You can tell this even before entering.
I had driven to Nat Bailey immediately after making it into Canada via the Peace Arch border crossing, and therefore hadn’t had a chance to experience even one iota of Vancouver (the iota is the metric system’s smallest unit of measurement). So before entering the facility I did a lap around it, to at least get a small sense of where I was and what it was like there.
Well, first and foremost, it was beautiful.
Nat Bailey is located amidst a residential area, and it sure looks like an appealing neighborhood to call home.
The residents of this neighborhood make ample use of the Hillcrest Community Centre (yes, “centre”, this is Canada) located next door to the stadium.
The smell of chlorine wafts from this building, but serving as a public pool and recreational facility was not its original intent. The Centre was built as the curling venue for the 2010 Winter Olympics! (And, oh goodness, it’s all coming back to me — I actually wrote an article about this when the building was being constructed).
Across the street from this erstwhile Olympic venue is a massive and beautifully maintained public park, which I had the good fortune to explore the following afternoon (more on that in a future Vancouver-based post). If I lived here, I would totally join the lawn bowling club:
At this point my entrance into the ballpark could be delayed no more. And, once I did so, I was greeted in a very hospitable fashion: the front office had devised an action-packed itinerary for me, and as a result this narrative will last a very long time. (That’s fine with me. On the other side of these blog posts lies the unfathomable abyss of the offseason).
After conducting a couple of player interviews, I embarked on a stadium tour with manager of community relations Jeff Holloway. The view from the field:
At the time of its installation, the Nat Bailey videoboard had the second highest definition of any in professional baseball (behind New York’s Citi Field). But the hand-operated scoreboard located just to the right is a relic, as it had originally been located within Seattle’s Sicks Stadium (home of the 1969 Pilots team immortalized in Ball Four).
Within an hour, this sprawling first base-side picnic area would be packed with fans as part of a Thursday evening sellout. Did I mention that it was an absolutely beautiful day?
We proceeded to the concourse, just minutes after the gates had opened and the throngs began pouring in.
You can’t really tell in this picture, but the third concession stand in is devoted to the unassailable combination of sushi and Asahi beer (the combination of a large Japanese population and proximity to water makes Vancouver a premier sushi town).
Oh, look, I just found a picture of what I was just talking about:
Our next stop was this historical concourse display, named in honor of a well-known and loved Vancouver baseball historian/super-fan.
Artifacts, photos, and a team timeline can be found along the walls.
A prominent pair of teammates from Vancouver’s last season in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League:
An early iteration of mascot Bob the Brown Bear, whom I soon ran into out on the main aisle.
Sorry, Bob. I didn’t mean to invade your personal space.
Back outside the stadium, large crowds had gathered as game time approached.
The Canadians are a hot item these days, thanks to a total franchise overhaul that occurred after new owners Jake (no relation to Bud) Kerr and Jeff Mooney bought the team prior to 2007 and installed veteran baseball exec Andy Dunn as president. I was told that fireworks nights tickets go for exorbitant amounts on the secondary market and — hey! — this is something I’d never seen outside of a Minor League park before. A scalper!
My re-entry to the stadium was assured, but not before appearing as a guest on broadcaster Rob Fai’s pre-game show. Here he is finishing up his interview with the previous guest, an ardent C’s supporter who appears at each and every game dressed in full uniform: pitching coach Dave Pano.
There are no pictures of me during my time on the air, but I don’t think this will trouble anyone a single iota. The pre-game show segued nicely into the game itself (it’s weird how that happens), and we re-entered the stadium just in time for the anthems.
Yes, anthems plural. I thought this group did a fine job singing both the “Star-Spangled Banner” and “Oh, Canada.”
Take my word for it.
Finally! Play ball!
The first order of business was to make our way down the third base line in order to experience one of the most, uh, “generously-portioned” food items in Minor League Baseball. Just the sight of it on the grill made the concession workers giddy.
Here’s the menu. Take one guess as to what it could have been.
Not an “Itzakadoozie,” but it was a doozy: the two-foot fungo dog! (But what is that in meters?)
This 24-inch frankfurter is provided by a local butcher, and it’s more than just a novelty: it’s delicious! But, of course, said deliciousness was off-limits to me due to, yeah, the celiac disease. Enter Andrew Forsyth, Canadians media relations assistant and enthusiastic “designated eater” for the evening.
Take it away, Andrew, and gussy it up! He put pretty much every condiment available on that thing:
From there, only one thing was left to be done: Eat It! And Forsyth did so, with aplomb.
But yet another colossal concession item awaited us – the one-foot corn dog. How much is that doggie in the window?
It’s abundantly gluten-ous nature meant that this gluttonous corn dog was, of course, off-limits to me. But nonetheless I took a moment to gaze longingly into (what I assumed were) its eyes, reflecting on the good times that I had once enjoyed with its batter-dipped brethren.
‘Tis better to have loved and lost:
The Canadians’ front office staff was exceptional throughout my visit, both in their dealings with me and (more importantly) the fans in general. It’s an ace operation. But if I had to offer a criticism, it would be this: no one was interested in “designated eating” the corn dog, nor was a designated eater found. The last time I saw my beloved corn dog it was sitting neglected under a table, a tragic ending to a brief but glorious existence:
But life goes on, long after the thrill of food on a stick has gone. The next order of business was to join sales and community relations coordinator Vanessa Williams during her daily Smart Car drive around the perimeter of the playing field (this is a sponsored promotion).
This was our view, as we waited for a third out that seemingly never came. I’m not sure if the corn dog had already been removed from the table at this point, or if was simply obscured by the (soon to be dancing) members of the grounds crew.
The Smart Car journey is full of peril, and Williams approached her task with a pragmatic and world-weary stoicism. This was her burden to bear and, come what may, she’d deal with it.
The visiting Boise Hawks seemed to be friendly enough fellows.
Fortunately, we weren’t hit by any wayward balls to the backstop.
The Canadians bullpen showered the car with sunflower seeds (Williams has learned to keep the drivers’ side window up).
Along the warning track, we reached speeds approaching a blazing 40 kilometers an hour.
Check out the view!
And, finally, there were the cackling wiseacres of the Boise bullpen. They had partially barricaded the mound with trash cans, but Williams eluded these obstacles with ease.
Upon the completion of this circular journey, there was no time to reflect on what had occurred. Like a politician running behind schedule, I was quickly whisked away by my overseers. We rushed through the concourse and into one of the best lairs that I had the good fortune to spend time in this season.
A mascot lair!
The partially costumed individual seen above would soon transform into Chef Wasabi as part of the Canadians’ nightly “Sushi Race.” I, meanwhile, was to be Mr. Kappa Maki. Before continuing, I’d like to make a few announcements regarding Ben’s Biz procedures from here on out:
New Blog Policy Alert: From the moment I put a mascot head on, that mascot is referred to in the third person and not as “I.”
New Blog Policy Alert II: Out of respect for the mascot community, I will no longer run dressing room shots of the disembodied heads and strewn-about suits of a team’s primary mascot(s). “Racing” mascots will continue to be depicted in various states of dismemberment, however.
We may now proceed. Here I am in proper Mr. Kappa Maki attire, sans head.
You gotta love Mr. Kappa Maki, as he projects a perpetual glazed lasciviousness (must be the effects of the seaweed). I imagine him sounding like an Asian Pauly Shore.
Side profile, limbs emerging from the avocado.
The action shots from the race didn’t come out too well, but all that you really need to know is that Mr. Kappa Maki overcame an early lead held by Ms. B.C. Roll and emerged triumphant.
Ain’t no thing, bros. Ain’t no thing
Mr. Kappa Maki was feeling A-Okay en route back to the lair.
But Maki’s mellow was harshed right quick, after coming face to face with this once back in the lair.
Back in civilian clothing, I returned to the ballgame and immediately became intrigued by this increasingly overburdened Boise Hawks coach (who I have not been able to identify). He had about three pairs of batting gloves stuffed in the front of his uniform, elbow guards on both arms, and a stopwatch. He was the most cyborg-esque first base coach I had ever seen.
But, of course, I had other business attend to — for the first time ever, Vancouver’s elite crew of dancing grounds crew members were welcoming a guest dancer. And this dancer, he was me.
This would be my second time engaging in dancing grounds crew antics (last season, I danced to “Party in the USA” while in Fort Wayne with the Tin Caps), and this time around the grounds crew in question picked an even easier song to dance to: “Apache.” The moves I had to memorize were as follows:
gyrate to the front/left/back/right/front, then jump, then spin with right hand circling in the air
We rehearsed these moves in the grounds crew storage area:
I should have gotten a non-performance shot of the grounds crew, as they were a very friendly and laid-back group of individuals. But thanks to Tom Archibald, Dylan Marsden, Trevor Sheffield and Connor Merillees for letting me crash their scene for an evening.
We had some time to kill before our moment of on-field dancing glory, so I amused myself by taking pictures of good ol’ number 14…
and here’s Boise slugger Dan Vogelbach, taking in the action with bat in hand.
And then — showtime! It wasn’t until later that I realized I had mistakenly walked backwards through the entire routine.
Airborne! (just barely)
And, would you believe it? Video exists of the entire routine! So here ya go:
Afterwards, I was thoroughly exhausted.
But no time to rest! Still wearing my ill-fitting borrowed grounds crew shirt, I was hustled over to the third base dugout to do the “Chicken Dance.” This familiar ritual is led every inning by dance master Hans Havas, an ebullient usher who has been part of the Nat Bailey experience for the past 32 years.
And, okay, fine. There’s video of this too. I was paired with a food service employee who seemed to be a Chicken Dance veteran (I forget her name, but remember her smile.) On the video you can hear fans taunting Vogelbach regarding his love of chicken, and this was par for the course for the Boise first baseman. I saw him play in both Yakima and Vancouver, and in both places he was given a really hard time because of his rotund body type. It didn’t seem fair.
Finally, it was time for a breather. Seeking a brief respite from public interaction, I retreated to the ballpark’s top row. What a sight to behold:
Another sight to behold was that which can be obtained from the stadium’s roof, upon which lies the press box.
One denizen of said box was Boise Hawks announcer Mike Safford.
I, along with Halloway (ever the accommodating tour guide) were on the roof during the seventh-inning stretch. And — wow! — Canadians fans are really enthusiastic singers. This video quality might not be great, but for the record I’d like to say that this was the best rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” that I’d ever heard at a Minor League ballpark. I almost shed a tear.
Back down on the concourse, I met a couple of these enthusiastic individuals. This is Steve Mezzomo, the preeminent supporter of Canadians fan favorite Balbino Fuenmayor (Fuenmayor, 22, has somehow managed to play six Minor League seasons already. The last three have been in Vancouver).
Mezzomo (who, while spelling his name, said “zed-zed” as Canadians are wont to do) said that he and his two boys were immediate Fuenmayor fans, and that making the shirts “just seemed like something fun to do with the kids.”
“The first day we wore the shirts, we saw Balbino and said ‘What do you think?’ said Mezzomo. “His mouth just dropped, and he wanted to take our pictures. Then, during the game the batboy ran over and said ‘Balbino wants to see you.’ He gave us a game bat. He’s such a great great guy; every time he has a ball he throws it to me. I almost feel bad.”
And here’s another individual who spells his name with a “zed-zed:” Joe Frizzell a Vancouver baseball lifer if there ever was one.
Frizzell grew up right by old Athletic Park, where he served as a sort of jack-of-all-trades.
“I did everything around the ballpark,” he said. “Batboy, operating the manual scoreboard, ballshagger, and then I finally got into selling tickets.”
This experience came in handy, as from 1951-56 Frizzell worked at Nat Bailey Stadium as what he calls the “game day manager” for the Vancouver Capilanos (a team named after a brand of beer). On a day-to-day basis, Frizzell played a key role in running the club. And now here he was, some six decades later, taking in the action as the Canadians dropped an 11-5 decision to Boise.
Where does the time go? Next thing I knew, the fans were filing out and the grounds crew was doing work on the field in a much less rhythmic fashion than before.
And with that, this dispatch from Vancouver finally, mercifully, concludes. It took me 2600 days to get to Vancouver, and 2600 words to write about it. But, sometimes, a single picture can say so much more. This was one helluva night at the ballpark.
Yesterday’s “ribbeting” narrative from Everett ended where such Biz Blog narratives often do: with the evening’s ballgame having just begun. I spent the first couple of innings with the AquaSox “Frog Squad” game day promo crew, overseen by director of community relations Katie Crawford and fronted on the field by the esteemed Mr. Schuyler Muller.
Upon the conclusion of the top of the second inning, I was among those assigned to toss t-shirts to the crowd. My area of operation was directly behind home plate, which requires innovative wind-up techniques in order to insure that the shirt makes it over the net.
A far more memorable endeavor occurred one inning later, when I suited up as “Frank” in the nightly “Waddle Race.” This is the continuation of new ballpark tradition for me — dressing up as a food product that I can no longer eat due to my recent celiac disease diagnosis.
I become that which I cannot consume!
Frank has been a staple of the Everett Memorial Stadium experience for years, but apparently his appearances have become increasingly rare. While waiting to appear on the field, I learned that Frank was, truly, a processed meat product in demand. I signed several autographs for enthusiastic fans, feeling the whole time as if I was failing them because my “signature” was terrible. It is very hard to use a Sharpie when it is gripped through ill-fitting slippery red gloves!
One woman, in particular, was a rabid Frank fan. As soon as she spotted him she ran over, offered a big hug, and then had me sign two balls, a hat and a stuffed Frank doll. Clearly, this was a moment she had been waiting for. (And, clearly, I am currently confused as to whether I am writing in the first or third person).
As for the “Waddle Race” — I’d definitely never seen the likes of this before. It was a relay race, featuring two teams of two, in which participants had to run while gripping a baseball between their legs. If the ball was dropped along the way, the contestant had to spin around twice before proceeding. Frank was assigned the second leg of the race, alongside a competitive Dad with a prominent calf tattoo.
When Frank received the ball from his teammate, he had a healthy lead over the opposition. The hand-off:
But keeping a baseball between such slippery uniform fabric was hard work, and Frank’s progress toward the finish line was slow.
Okay — pause! Do you remember when I was at a Jackson Generals game earlier this season, and participated in a Fruit Race? My camera mysteriously stopped working during the race, with this damaged photograph followed by a series of “file not found” blank images.
At the time, I offered the following theory to why this had occurred:
My camera loves me…and was probably dismayed to see me demeaning myself at a Minor League ballpark yet again. Its malfunction was a protest of sorts, motivated by a desire to only document me at my best.
I am now convinced that this theory is true, as this damaged “Waddle Race” photo was followed by another series of “file not found” images. Unpause!
So, what happened the rest of the way is that Tattooed Dad overcame Frank’s lead and coasted to victory. In my opinion, this was because Tattooed Dad was wearing shorts. It is much easier to sandwich a baseball between bare skin than it is to do so with polyester pants. Please trust me on this!
But, anyway, my camera malfunction continued throughout the following between-inning contest. Muller the MC, who was already in his golf clothes, donned a green jacket and narrated the “Three Stroke Golf Challenge” in suitably hushed tones. It went off really well, and the success of the “Three Stroke Golf Challenge” was par for the course for the AquaSox. They have a creative slate of between-inning contests, and aren’t afraid to take risks. If you work for a team and feel that your operation might be getting a little stale in that department, then I’d suggest stealing some of their ideas.
Around the fifth inning or so I joined up with fourth-year employee Alex Baker, now a Frog Squad member and marketing intern, and the two of us went on a daring journey behind the outfield wall.
This mysterious area led to a mysterious alcove.
I was briefly tempted to plunge the entire ballpark into darkness…
But, instead, I just kept on walking until we reached our final destination: a lair!
And not just any lair, but the lair of the manual scoreboard operator. A grounds crew employee named Steven Cook resided therein, dropping numbered slats of wood into their appropriate holes.
Somewhere along the line, this list of rehabbing Seattle Mariner players morphed into a list of AquaSox scoreboard operators. What’s the difference, really?
I enjoyed my time in this lair, as I enjoy my time in all lairs. But there was more to see, and more to do. Back amongst the public, I snapped this shot of what the scoreboard looks like from the stands.
A brief stop back in the promo pit proved that all was copacetic; a typical scene consisting of dice-sitting employees in plastic hats with a cross-legged amphibian adjacent.
So Baker and I continued to our next destination — the “Frank’s Loaded Dogs” concession stand.
While I could not consume Frank in his full form, I did order a “Webbly’s AquaDog” sans bun.
Very tasty, yes, but in this anecdote I am a peripheral character. Upon meeting Baker earlier in the evening, he had earnestly inquired whether or not I had found a “designated eater” (i.e. one who is ready and willing to “take a gluten-filled bullet” on my behalf).
I replied that “No, I had not” and he quickly assured me that he would be up to the task. And, boy, was he ever. Baker chose the “Build Your Own” option, and after a bit of trial and error he concocted the following: Hebrew National frankfurter with mac and cheese, bacon, pulled pork, onions, jalapenos, cheddar cheese and bbq sauce (and probably more, there was only so much room in my notebook). I have multiple pictures of him posing with it, because he kept adding things to it.
But, throughout, the smile remained consistent.
The final product, which Baker dubbed the “Ultra-Dog.” It was, truly, a work of art.
We retreated to the picnic area down the first base line. Members of the Yakima bullpen were completely oblivious to the culinary history that was taking place just behind them.
I daintily approached my dinner.
While Baker’s approach was anything but dainty. I mean, he just devoured that thing.
Baker’s take on the “Ultra-Dog”: “Delicious! The flavors balanced each other perfectly — it was spicy, savory, and had a little tang from the onions. And then the hot dog brought it all together, serving as the backbone, if you will.”
At this point it was the seventh inning, and I was struck by a crazy idea — how about sitting down and watching the baseball game?
The fans engaged in an enthusiastic rendition of the seventh-inning stretch, which warmed my heart.
But, of course, I almost immediately forgot about my plan to just watch the game. In the eighth inning, it was time for “Garbage Gremlins.” I had never seen such a thing! Anyone who desired was invited to grab a (sponsored!) yellow trash bag, in order to collect garbage from the stands. All who did so received “AquaDollars” that could be redeemed at the ballpark, with the individual collecting the most trash receiving bonus AquaDollars (I forget just how many AquaDollars were at stake, so let’s just say “$850,000″).
Garbage Gremlins in action! Refuse to lose, there’s refuse to gain!
But this was no garbage time ballgame, and the hometown team emerged triumphant.
Frank approved the outcome.
You’d think that at this point it was time to call it a night, except no, it’s never time to call it a night when on these trips. Acting on a tip I had received earlier, I proceeded past out-of-uniform AquaSox autograph signers in search of a significant historical marker.
In the dark Everett night, it took me a while to find what I was looking for.
But, finally — success!
That square plaque on the bottom right commemorates the approximate landing spot of Ken Griffey Jr.’s first professional hit. I’ll let the plaque do the explaining (cigarette butt included to provide a sense of scale).
A unique bit of baseball history, and the icing on the cake to one of the most enjoyable and diverse “on the road” experiences that I have ever had. These days, I am constantly asked “You travel a lot. What are your favorite ballparks to visit?” Well, Everett Memorial Stadium is way up there, ranking with other 2012 favorites such as the Daytona Cubs and Arkansas Travelers. Great ballpark, great staff, great logo, great food — I’d highly recommend visiting should you ever get the chance to do so.
But, c’mon guys, you need to invest in at least one more letter “a.” An upside-down “u” doesn’t quite cut it…