Results tagged ‘ On the Road ’

Nothing But the Real McCoy in Pawtucket

To see all posts from my September 1, 2015 visit to the Pawtucket Red Sox (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

The previous PawSox post was a lengthy and discursive overview of both team and stadium history, interwoven into a contextualizing “pregame wandering” narrative. No promises, but it is my intent to keep this post — Part Two in the series — short and simple.

It was September 1, 2015 and the PawSox were taking on the Lehigh Valley IronPigs in a Tuesday evening contest. Both teams were out of postseason contention, but the show must go on.

036Let us now take a look to the left. I mean, why not?

037I spent the first several innings of the ballgame in close commiseration with my designated eater (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). That will be documented in the next post.

By the time I returned to the stands, darkness had descended upon us all.

051I then spent the next couple of innings cataloging the observations of longtime PawSox fans dismayed at the team’s proposed move to Providence. Read all about it.

These conversations were followed by a requisite bout of wandering, which eventually brought me to the outfield berm.

054While on the berm, I captured this select snippet of “God Bless America.”

I thought that the above Vine came out really well, and that people on social media would pick up on it, but that didn’t happen. Oh, well. I’m used to it. I’ll just be out here by my lonesome being brilliant, for however long it takes for the world to catch on. I’m like the Melville of baseball bloggers, and while there are distinct downsides to one’s legacy being posthumous it just shows that I’m ahead of my time.

I no longer have any idea regarding what point I’m trying to make here. Do you have any idea, Paws? 056Yeah, me neither. So let’s just move on to a desultory Tuesday night rendition of “Sweet Caroline.”

Seeking the mental clarity that often results from a new perspective, I made a rapid ascendance to the top of the stadium.  058The PawSox were wrapping up a speedy 10-2 victory over the IronPigs. Rich Hill, who I interviewed a decade ago, struck out nine over seven innings and earned the win.

The game may have been over, but the evening would not be complete without a Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke.

On the way out of the stadium, I passed through yet another shrine to the long and distinguished history of McCoy Stadium. As mentioned in the last post, this kind of stuff can be found all throughout the ballpark. It is a living museum, in perpetual celebration of itself.

060Outside the ballpark, I spent a few minutes cruising around in a golf cart with PawSox director of security Rick Medeiros.

065Rick, in addition to being a likable and outgoing guy, is a fellow blogger. Check out his “Rollin’ With Rick” blog, which recently dedicated a post to my evening at McCoy. One of Rick’s long term goals is to dethrone me from my #1″MiLB Pro” ranking on MLBlogs, but I’m ready for the fight.

square-upI’m ready for a metaphorical fight, at least. In a real one, Rick would knock me out no problem.

Anyhow, outside in the parking lot after the game, Rick and I kept tabs on the nightly autograph scrum. I’d never seen this before, but the PawSox have established a separate “kid’s only” autograph line. That’s a pretty cool innovation, as it gives them some separation from the middle-aged adults who comprise the majority of the autograph collecting ecosystem.


And that just about did it for my one (and thus far only) evening at McCoy Stadium. On behalf of a faded concourse image of Ernie Whitt, I bid you all goodnight.


On the Rhode in Pawtucket

To see all posts from my September 1, 2015 visit to the Pawtucket Red Sox (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

The fourth stop on my fifth road trip of the season marked the first time that my Minor League travels had taken me to Rhode Island. There is only one Minor League Baseball team in Rhode Island, and that team is the Pawtucket Red Sox. The PawSox, as they are often referred to as, have spent the entirety of their existence at McCoy Stadium.

001As you can see in the above photo, McCoy Stadium is located on Ben Mondor Way. Ben Mondor bought the PawSox in 1977, when their financial situation was dire, and turned the team into one of the most well-regarded operations in the industry. Two of his key employees then, Mike Tamburro and Lou Schwechheimer, went on to log decades of service with the club. Tamburro remains the CEO, and Schwechheimer stepped down as vice president following the 2015 season. The PawSox, all the way around, have been a model of consistency. They operate in the league’s oldest stadium, boast its longest-running affiliation and have a front office core that has been with the club for decades.

But nothing lasts forever. Mondor died in 2010 at the age of 85, and this past February his widow, Madeline, sold the team to a Boston Red Sox-affiliated ownership group which immediately announced its intent to move the team to the neighboring city of Providence. To say that this relocation plan has been controversial would be an understatement. Emotions have run high from the start, and everybody in Rhode Island seems to have an opinion. And, usually, it’s been a negative opinion.

The PawSox relocation controversy was front page news on the day that I visited. This machine was  situated just down the street from the stadium.


I’ve written plenty about the PawSox in recent months, including articles (HERE and HERE) that originated during this visit. For a fairly up-to-date recap of the situation, click HERE.

To sum it all up: The Paw Sox will be playing AT LEAST two more seasons at McCoy Stadium, and probably more than that (the current lease expires in 2020). This post and those that follow will simply focus on what it is like to attend a game at McCoy. That’s where I was on this low-key Tuesday evening, and that’s where they’ll be for the foreseeable future.

McCoy is located in a scruffy, largely residential area. AMVETS Post 13 is located just down the street. 004This nearby driveway appears to lead directly into the back of the outfield fence.

005The Right Spot Diner, probably the most visible and best-known business in the immediate vicinity of the stadium, serves three meals and day and specializes in “Hot Wieners.” This is a Rhode Island-specific form of hot dog, which, according to Wikipedia, are also sometimes referred to as “Gaggers.” I went in before the game, sat on the counter, and got a hamburger steak with green beans. It just seemed like the right thing to do.


Moving toward the stadium proper, I was greeted not by a hot wiener but by a cool bear.


The bear’s name is Paws.




Okay, resume:

McCoy Stadium is, in a word, venerable. There is a lot of history here, and much of this history is commemorated within the facility’s hallways, stairways, offices and ramps. I would bet that, taken together, no stadium in Minor League Baseball contains more team-specific memorabilia than does McCoy.

011McCoy’s main entrance is located out toward left field, so one of my first views of the playing field proper came from this vantage point. This is a stadium that immediately felt unique. Even after an extensive renovation (in 1999), there is nothing cookie-cutter about it.


Souvenirs are available on the concourse.

015Many, many souvenirs. There is even an “autograph fishing set,” which, if you don’t already know, will make a lot more sense later in the post.

016On the concourse, one finds an extensive homage to McCoy’s biggest claim to fame. In 1981, the stadium hosted the longest professional baseball game of all time. The game, between the PawSox and Rochester Red Wings, took 33 innings to complete. 32 of these frames were played on April 18 and 19th.


For what it’s worth, here’s what the team’s 1981 program looked like. None of the three players that this boy is dreaming about — Dave Stapleton, Glenn Hoffman, John Tudor — played in “The Longest Game.”

009Another great “McCoy Stadium Moment” occurred in 1999, when Paw Sox outfielder Michael Coleman went 7-for-7 and hit for the cycle in a 25-2 rout of Norfolk. As this sign notes, Coleman “became the first player in the history of professional baseball to go 7-for-7 and hit for the cycle in the same game.” Coleman played 22 games over part of three Major League seasons (1997, 1999, 2001) and didn’t hit for the cycle over the entirety of his MLB career (he collected eight hits, including one double and one home run).

Baseball is a rabbit hole. I’m always getting lost.

022McCoy Stadium is laden with such signifiers of the past. This painting of a sad-looking Rich Gedman, who did play in “The Longest Game, “is located on the ramp leading to the upper level.

023The view from the top of the ramp. Yep, more Paw Sox-related player signage can be seen from here as well.


There is a ramp leading from the upper-level aisle into the press box, which looms above and in front of a section of seating. I don’t think that I’d ever seen that before.


The McCoy broadcaster’s booth, which in 2014 was occupied by Josh Maurer and Will Flemming, has long been a hotbed of future big league talent. I wrote an article about this phenomenon for last offseason (after PawSox broadcaster Jeff Levering was hired by the Brewers), and that article was reprinted in the Paw Sox’s 2015 yearbook.

Pass the mic:


Notable alumni

Every Minor League broadcaster wants to eventually get to the big leagues. But Pawtucket is a good place to be in the interim, as the listening audience is far bigger than the average team’s.


McCoy Stadium also has what is considered to be the best press box spread in Minor League Baseball. Several people told me this, and despite the small sample size I would have to concur. If you work in the Minors, then you know how rare it is to get a healthy, balanced press box meal. What a perk.

I was in attendance during a Tuesday night in September, and just like in Lowell the night before I was told that I had picked one of the worst days of the season to visit. I seem to have a knack for doing such a thing.

But the show, it must go on. It always does and it always will. 028 The dugouts at McCoy are located at field level, directly under the seats (the seating bowl begins 10 feet above the field of play). This unorthodox layout has led to the tradition, seen in the photo below, of placing balls and other memorabilia into milk jugs and buckets for the players to sign. This is why the team store sells an “autograph fishing set.”

On a busy day, dozens of fishing apparatuses would be hanging from the railing as their owners waited for a bite from the players down below. But, again, this wasn’t a busy day. 029The fishing occurs at both dugouts. Note that here, on the visitor’s side, most of the hanging items are baseball card albums. 030Time to reel it in, folks, as the game was about to start. The PawSox, following established (but by no means mandatory) protocol, asked me to throw out a first pitch.

Me, thinking about throwing a perfect strike: pitch1Me, throwing a perfect first strike: pitch2Me, posing with a PawSox player after throwing out a perfect strike. pitch3The Paw Sox do it up right when it comes to first pitches, giving each first pitch thrower a commemorative cap and ball as well as a business card including a link to all of that evening’s pregame photos (which is where I got the three seen above).

After throwing out the first pitch, I was directed back into a corridor and, yes. That corridor was packed with memorabilia. 035Now is as good a time as any to “Paws” this McCoy Stadium saga. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion, which will appear as soon as humanly possible.

On the Road: Fresh, Hot and Simple in Lowell

To see all posts from my August 31, 2015 visit to the Lowell Spinners (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

Let’s get this requisite introductory paragraph out of the way as quickly and painlessly as possible:

At nearly every ballpark I visited this season, I had a designated eater. These individuals, hardy souls with good appetites all, are tasked with consuming the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits. At LeLacheur Park, home of the Lowell Spinners, my designated eater was Joe Beauregard.

Joe is a real nice guy.

IMG_0453In addition to being a nice guy, Joe is a Lowell native who now lives in nearby Chelmsford. He works in the sporting goods industry, selling products to local youth sports programs, and is a big sports fan himself. He’s also a family man, and two of his three sons were with him at the ballpark: 13-year-old Joey and seven-year-old Braden. (Middle child Jared, 11, opted to stay home).

As for why he wanted to be a designated eater at a Lowell Spinners game, Joe’s answer was simple and inspiring.

“If there’s eating involved, then I can do it. I’ve got the size and I’ve got the ability. I’ve been training all of my life for this opportunity.”

Okay, but what to eat? When it comes to their concessions, the Spinners prefer to keep it simple. In the past they’ve offered regional specialties like lobster rolls and alluring grotesques such as the Homewrecker Hot Dog, but currently their strategy is to focus on the basics and to do the basics well.

In other words: Keep It Simple, Stupid.


The above picture of the Canaligator Cafe was taken earlier in the evening. But it was at this same concession stand — or one just like it — where Joe and I procured an array of food.


First up was the cheesesteak, which in Lowell is apparently called a “Steak and Cheese.” That, to me, is kind of like calling a hot dog a “Dog and Hot,” but whatever.

Steak and Cheese, so be it.

IMG_0447Have at it, Joe. This is your time to shine.

“It’s flavorful. There’s enough cheese and enough steak, so it’s a good steak and cheese,” said Joe, whose logic was impeccable. “I recommend it.”

Alright, then. So how ’bout some garlic fries?

IMG_0448“I like the garlic, it’s got some flavor,” said Joe, a man who likes flavor.

We also got an order of the spicy fries, which were — you guessed it — spicy. Seven-year-old Braden gave one a try, kinda sorta.

IMG_0455Braden looks pretty laid back in that photo, but the only quote I have from him regarding the Spicy Fry experience is anything but laid back: “Spicy! Water!”

Water procured, we then moved on to item number three: A slice of pizza.


Joe, declaring himself a “Chelmsford guy,” immediately pegged this as Sal’s Pizza. Sal’s is a Massachusetts-based chain.

“They do a nice job with North End [Boston], Sicilian-style pizza,” said Joe. “Their’s a Sal’s outside of Fenway, and one in the [TD] Garden.”


Sal, folding in front of the field.

Having recovered from his Spicy Fry experience, Braden posed for a pizza pic alongside his Pops. It turned out great.

IMG_0458Cheese and steak, check. Two kinds of fries, check. Slice from a regionally known pizza chain, check.

All that was left was dessert. For that, we obtained a serving of deep-fried Oreos from a concourse kiosk located behind home plate.

IMG_0459Joey, Joe and Braden. Beauregards enjoying a bite.

IMG_0460“I love the surprise in the middle — the Oreo!” said Joe, apparently forgetting that this item was clearly labeled as a Deep-Fried Oreo. “I mean, fried’s good anyway, but when you get the Oreo? Hello!”

Hello and goodbye, unfortunately, for once dessert is done then what else can there be? Thanks to Joe and his small entourage of friends and family for an enjoyable couple of innings at the ballpark, sampling  the best of the basics.


On the Road: Dancing Ushers and Retiring Icons in Lowell

To see all posts from my August 31, 2015 visit to the Lowell Spinners (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

From the Spinners perspective, August 31 was not an ideal time for me to visit. Not only was it a Monday night, but school was now back in session. And if you know Minor League Baseball, you know that when kids are in school then parents are far less inclined to take them to the game.

But, hey, the show must go on.

IMG_0432UMass Lowell, whose campus is just across the street, was back in session as well. Here, it looks like a small group of students were check out the game for free from the top of an adjacent parking garage.

IMG_0438The Spinners had lost the previous night’s game, as well as three of their past four. Seeking to switch things up, they wore their red road jerseys despite the fact that this, obviously, was a home game.

I’m not sure if Scooby Doo, tasked with throwing t-shirts out of the Spinners’ Mystery Machine, was wearing a jersey at all.

IMG_0433Run-on sentence alert:

Shortly after the game began I was escorted into the bowels of the stadium so that I could suit up as a Minion and then participate in the team’s nightly “Minion Wipeout” obstacle course race.

IMG_0445While in the facility bowels, I passed the time by taking pictures of Hudson Valley Renegade players in the on-deck circle. Between them and me was some sort of waste bin.

IMG_0441As for the Minion Wipeout, it entailed running through cones and running over a balance beam and dodging water balloons as well as over-sized  boxing gloves. I’m not sure if the race was documented but please know that I won and, thus, the greatest minion of all time.

Costumed tomfoolery was also taking place on the concourse. This dragon attended the game along with a local martial arts academy, whose students had given a pregame performance.

But one doesn’t necessarily need a costume in order to draw attention to his or herself. This is Bob the Dancing Usher, who stays true to his name on a nightly basis. By dancing.

Bob,a Vietnam veteran, spent 30 years working for the Marblehead (Massachusetts) post office. He said that he began dancing on the dugout in 2005 or 2006, “on a whim.”

“I just got up there and got everyone clapping,” he said. “I just love it. I’ll yell, I’ll clap, I’ll scream. And I’m an old man. I’m 69….I’m bragging a little bit, but when people call the box office they’ll say ‘Hey, I want to sit in Bob’s section.’ Hey, if it sells tickets, it sells tickets!”

Bob, getting ready to dance:

IMG_0341 Bob, not dancing.

IMG_0470I also spent some time speaking with the one and only Dogman, longtime Spinners clubhouse manager (and former hot dog vendor) who retired at the end of the 2015 season.

IMG_0464I wrote a story about the origin and evolution of Dogman for You can read the story HERE, which includes one of Dogman’s favorite jokes to tell the players:

“I just tell ’em, I tell ’em, ‘Hey! The Red Sox are gonna change their name this year, to the Nylons. They’ll get more runs!'”

And since I’m on the topic of long-time team employees — Tim Bawmann, Spinners general manager, was celebrating his 50th birthday. The team’s new videoboard wished him well.

IMG_0461Tim celebrated his birthday by doing laundry in the visitor’s clubhouse until four in the morning (true story).

It is definitely a season of transition for the Spinners. In addition to Dogman, longtime Spinners media relations director Jon Boswell has moved on to a job at the UMass Lowell. I wish Jon well, but it’s a bummer that he’s no longer in the world of Minor League Baseball.

Oh, and the Spinners are currently for sale. Drew Weber, who has owned the team since its 1996 inception, wants to spend more time with his grandchildren in New York.

Meanwhile, returning to the on-field action of August 31:

The Spinners must have been thinking of changing their name to the Nylons. After eight innings, they were down by a score of 12-6.

IMG_0465I wouldn’t call a six-run deficit a “blowout”, but it was a wide enough lead that the Spinners decided to conserve the bullpen and have a position player pitch the ninth. That position player? First baseman Tucker Tubbs.

I spent a few minutes eavesdropping on Tubbs as he warmed up, and he continually mentioned that his “breathing was off.” But once he got out there, Double-T did all right. Though he allowed three singles, no Renegades crossed the plate in the frame and Tubbs is now the proud owner of a 0.00 ERA as a professional pitcher.

When it comes to my “Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day,” I am the proud owner of a 1.000 batting average.

And that just about did it for my night with the Spinners. The Renegades won the game, youthful fans ran the bases, tennis balls were tossed at various targets and then everyone went home.

IMG_0469Goodnight from LeLacheur Park, a place where you can read the media notes while using the urinal.

IMG_0322I remain number one,

On the Road: Milling About in Lowell

To see all posts from my August 31, 2015 visit to the Lowell Spinners (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

The third stop of my end-of-season jaunt through New England was Lowell, home of the Spinners. I’d been here before. Twice, in fact. The first was in 2009, when I was but a young man and still figuring out this whole “traveling America through Minor League Baseball” thing. I used the occasion of a family wedding in New Hampshire to rent a car and drive to Lowell, marking the first time I’d ever visited a ballpark specifically as “Ben’s Biz.” That was six years and 30 pounds ago.


2009 file photo from my trip to Lowell

I next visited Lowell in 2012, this time accompanying my pal Zack Hample (yes, that Zack Hample) as he attempted to set the World Record for catching a baseball dropped from the highest, uh, height. During that visit, I dressed up as both a toothbrush and a boxing donut. That was three years and 30 pounds ago.

2012Which brings us to this present narrative, featuring me at my oldest and fattest. LeLacheur Park, home of the Spinners, is still looking good, though.

IMG_0416LeLacheur Park’s brick facade is consistent with Lowell’s dominant architectural theme. During the industrial revolution the city was a major hub of textile production — the Spinners name is a reference to the process by which yarn is produced — and many of the mills are still standing. Some have been converted into lofts and retail establishments and the like.

The stadium is located across the street from UMass Lowell. I attended the game on Monday, August 31, and school was back in session. This meant that parking was more scarce than usual, but what can you do? (To assist with the situation, Spinners gameday employees were stationed in the vicinity of the ballpark wielding “Ask me about free parking” signs.)

IMG_0419Upon entering the stadium, I immediately faced the sun and took a picture.

IMG_0421It’s probably better not to face the sun. Here’s the view from the third base side, complete with background smokestacks. Note, also, the train parked on the warning track, which is available for free pre-game rides.


A closer look at the view beyond right field.


This sign, posted on the concourse, highlights what may have been the greatest moment in New York-Penn League history. (It’s fitting that this occurred in the NYPL, or “Nipple,” league.)


Udderly ridiculous.

I also spotted this dry cleaning ad on the concourse. Subliminal advertising, or is it just me?


I soon ran into Spinners general manager Tim Bawmann, who told me to get my camera out and document what he was about to do. What he did was this.

IMG_0420Tim is hugging his 17-year-old son, Elijah, who was manning a concourse ice cream stand. Hugging Elijah was a pregame ritual this season for Tim, and getting hugged by Tim was a pregame ritual for Elijah. (Incidentally, Tim was celebrating a milestone birthday on this low-key Monday evening. The big 5-0.)

The Spinners really are a family affair. The team’s three mascots — Canaligator, Allie-Gator and Millie-Gator — are husband, wife and child. When this mascot family was introduced prior to the game, Allie pushed out Millie in a wheelbarrow. I don’t think there was a reason for this. Why would you need a reason?

IMG_0428In the above photo, one can see a portion of the “Foul Ball Fun Zone” located in left field. It includes a strong assemblage of various games and attractions.

IMG_0436Panning out a bit, note that the Foul Ball Fun Zone is located adjacent to the No Fun Dumpster Zone. Eagle-eyed observers will see that Dogman, the Spinners iconic clubhouse manager, is lurking amid the dumpsters. Dogman will be featured in the next post.

IMG_0435Speaking of the next post, it’s coming soon! Hopefully it will be a high-energy affair, sorry that this one was a little Lowell.

On the Road: It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye in New Britain

To see all posts from my August 30, 2015 visit to the New Britain Rock Cats (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

Part One of this post covered all that went on as fans awaited the final game in New Britain Rock Cats history. This post, sensibly referred to as Part Two, will what went on during the game itself. Let’s start with the obvious:

It was a beautiful day for baseball.


032This was not to be a typical “Ben’s Biz” day at the ballpark. I didn’t participate in any between-inning contests or throw t-shirts into the crowd or anything like that. I didn’t even have a designated eater; the guy who had signed up cancelled, and I decided not to find a replacement. I was simply on hand to take in the final game atmosphere, and to talk to people regarding their thoughts on the imminent demise of the Rock Cats. (And the imminent rise of the Hartford Yard Goats.)

One of the most important people I talked to was 88-year-old Al Nelson. Pretty much everyone in the ballpark seemed to know him.

033An excerpt from my story on the Rock Cats, which prominently featured Nelson:

Al Nelson, an 88-year-old World War II veteran and retired firefighter, has been there through it all. He lives two miles from the ballpark and Sunday as always, rode his bike to the afternoon contest. (He won’t ride at night, he explained, because “you can’t find the potholes.”) Nelson, who has his name engraved on his first-row bleacher seat, is the unofficial mayor of the ballpark.

Hartford is only 12 miles from New Britain, but Nelson and fans like him have no interest in transferring their loyalties to the Hartford Yard Goats.

“I’m not going over there,” he said. “For one thing, they don’t have a parking lot. You’re gonna park in a garage or something? It’s not gonna be good. I’m not walking around Hartford at 10:00 at night. I’m not gonna feel safe. I’m not going to have any wheels when I get back. Where the hell’s my tires?”

In addition to talking to people, I wandered around a lot. It is always hard for me to sit still when visiting ballparks, and my afternoon in New Britain was no exception.


The pickins in the team store were, by this point, slimmer than a mass produced beef-stick.

037An interview conducted on this outdoor party porch allowed me to take in a second-level vantage point. No women allowed, apparently.

039And how about a round of applause for these two kids, hanging out in the parking lot while waiting for a foul ball to fly their way.

041The Rock Cats had a full roster of mascots wandering the ballpark. I’m not sure how many of them will be making the trip to Hartford.

Here, we have a Walrus who goes by the name of “Blooper.” I never did see Eggman, his purported sidekick.045This is Rookie, nephew of primary mascot Rocky.


Rookie’s favorite player is Rocky, whose favorite movie is Rocky. Rookie’s favorite movie is The Rookie, while his favorite food is Rocky Road ice cream. You’d think that Rocky Road ice cream would be Rocky’s favorite food, but Rocky simply prefers “ballpark hot dogs.” Way to deviate from the theme, Rocky. You’re like the Rocky V of mascots in that regard.

Reading the above paragraph was probably a deflating experience, akin to seeing Fun Zone attractions closed down for the final time.


Yes, the Rock Cats era at New Britain Stadium was rapidly coming to an end. Or at least it appeared so at the time. Midway through the seventh inning, the Portland Sea Dogs held a 4-3 lead over the home team.

“Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, one last time.

The Rock Cats tied the game at 4-4 in the bottom of the 8th. Jan Vazquez walked, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt and scored on Tyler Massey’s two-out single. Massey then stole second base and tried to score the go-ahead run on Noel Cuevas’ single to right field. But…no dice. Sea Dogs right fielder Aneury Tavarez gunned him down at the plate.

Tie score in the ninth inning? Hey, no problem. It’s never too late to get your picture taken with the mascot.

048The Sea Dogs went quietly in the top of the ninth, and in the bottom of the frame the Rock Cats again put themselves on the brink of victory. With two outs and a runner on second, Jordan Patterson came to the plate.

And…no dice.

Okay, so the Rock Cats era at New Britain Stadium wasn’t quite ready to end. Free baseball! The Sea Dogs again went quietly in the 10th; in my notebook I wondered if the at-bat music played for Tim Roberson (“Mrs. Robinson”) that inning would be “the last ‘mocking the visitor’ walk-up song in team history.” I immediately forgot to continue to keep track of this quirky detail, but it probably wasn’t. There was still more baseball to be played.

The bottom of the 10th unfolded very similarly to the bottom of the 8th. Vazquez walked, advanced to second on a sac bunt and then moved to third on a Juan Ciriaco single. Sensing the magnitude of the situation, one hardy fan attempting to strike up a “These Cats Rock!” chant. Only other person joined him, however. Anemic response begets anemic response, as an infield pop out was followed by a ground ball to shortstop.

No dice, so we went on to the 11th. In the top of the inning, Keury De La Cruz launched one over the wall in right center field to give the Sea Dogs a 5-4 advantage. Al Nelson, the unofficial mayor of the stadium, had seen enough. He left after the top of the 11th ended, perhaps not wanting to see the final game at New Britain Stadium end with a Rock Cats loss.

Fare thee well, Mr. Nelson. You’ve really got to respect an 88-year-old man who still rides his bike to the ballpark.

049But perhaps Mr. Nelson should have stuck it out. Pat Valaika doubled to lead off the bottom of the 11th, putting a runner in scoring position with no outs. But this was followed by a pair of infield pop-ups, little sound and less fury, signifying nothing. Patterson then came to the plate, the only thing standing in the way of a dispiriting final game defeat.

Dispiriting defeat was denied, however, as Patterson came through!

Vazquez struck out to end the inning, so on the 12th we went.

As you can see in the above video, what had been a pleasant late summer day was starting to turn ominous. Might the last home game in Rock Cats history include the last rain delay in Rock Cats history? As if the day hadn’t already gone on long enough. It is also worth noting that a celebrity softball game was scheduled to take place following the conclusion of the Rock Cats – Sea Dogs tilt. Participants included Rollie Fingers, Ferguson Jenkins, George Foster and Jim Leyritz; I was told that, while waiting for this game to end, this cadre of distinguished baseball men hung out in a cramped office within the stadium and traded war stories. What a surreal environment Minor League Baseball can be.

The 12th inning, meanwhile, was completely uneventful as both teams went down in order.

Now it was time for lucky 13. Kevin Pataky, veteran Minor League photographer, figured he may as well stay a while.

Portland, once again, went down 1-2-3 in the 13th. But the Rock Cats, as they were making a habit of doing, threatened in the bottom of the frame. Valaika doubled with one out, and after an intentional walk to Mike Tauchman Will Swanner hit a single to right field.

Valaika was waved around…

…and Valaika was thrown out.

As we careened to the 14th, I obtained a different vantage point.

051Nonetheless, the song remained the same. The Sea Dogs went down quietly in the top of the 14th, and the Rock Cats failed to score in the bottom of the frame. This despite the fact that they loaded the bases, and the guy on the mound was reserve infielder Oscar Tejeda. Yes, the last home game in Rock Cats history would now be decided with a position player pitching

I spent the bottom of the 14th inning in the press box, and the frustration in the room was palpable.

“It’s like he’s throwing batting practice out there! C’mon!” was a representative remark.

I spent the top of the 15th inning on the left field party deck. Any joy that the fans may have once had at getting to savor a few extra innings of Rock Cats baseball had now curdled into disgust.

“For the love of God, be done!” one woman screamed.

“After this game, I’m never coming back,” added a nearby gentleman.

The Sea Dogs didn’t muster anything more than a harmless single in the top of the 15th, giving the Rock Cats another crack at Tejeda — who, once again, is a position player — in the bottom of the frame. Tauchman singled to start things off, replaced by Swanner on first base bases after a botched sacrifice bunt attempt. But no matter. Patterson then came to the plate and finally, mercifully, ended the ballgame all with a two-run home run. Final score: Rock Cats 7, Sea Dogs 5.

Kevin Pataky got a great shot of the ensuing celebration.

walkoffThank You, Rock Cats fans, for 33 seasons of loyal support and, also, for sticking around for the entirety of this farcical baseball game.

052AC/DC, the original “Rock” cats, then played over the PA as the kids flooded onto the field to run the bases. From my notes:

“The emcee won’t stop yelling during run the bases. Dude, let the moment be!”

053And, yes, a celebrity softball game then broke out. Kudos to Mr. Fingers for wearing a full uniform.

054At this juncture of the day, sticking around for a celebrity softball game felt like a form of cruel and unusual punishment. I had only one thing left to do, and that one thing was to make the final Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark joke in New Britain Rock Cats history.

Nailed it.

On the Road: One Last Time in New Britain

To see all posts from my August 30, 2015 visit to the New Britain Rock Cats (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

When I put together my end-of-season New England ballpark itinerary, there was one imperative: On August 30, I needed to see the Rock Cats play at New Britain Stadium. This would be the last home game in franchise history, as in 2016 the Rock Cats are relocating to nearby Hartford and beginning a new era as the Yard Goats.

The Old: New Britain Rock Cats (1983-2015)


The New: Hartford Yard Goats (2016-?)


Goat Springs Eternal

August 30, then, was a day to say goodbye. Seeking to maximize their time at the old ballyard, the faithful-est of the Rock Cats faithful lined up outside before the gates opened.


But all things considered, New Britain Stadium isn’t even that old of a ballyard. From 1983 through 1996, the team played in Beehive Field (where they were known first as the Red Sox and then as the “Hardware City Rock Cats,” a nod to the Stanley Works corporation having its headquarters in New Britain). Beehive Field, reminiscent of an entirely different epoch, resides next door to New Britain Stadium.

The plaque outside Beehive Stadium reads “Industry Fills the Hives and Enjoys the Honey,” which is the motto of the city of New Britain. This is a better motto than “Worker and Drones, forever subservient to Queen Industry.”


002Upon entering New Britain Stadium, I hightailed it to the press box and spoke with longtime scoreboard operator Larry Michaels. He was one of several ballpark veterans I interviewed throughout the afternoon, as part of my story on saying goodbye to New Britain.


Michaels was among many press box denizens fulfilling his duties, one last time.


Back downstairs, the gates had opened. The Fun Zone inflatables had been inflated. One last time.


On the concourse, the Legends Diner was open for business. One last time.

009They sell pretzels at the Legends Diner, by the way. Pretzelhead Jones was steering fans in the direction of the pretzels. One last time.


Further down the concourse, the team store was a-buzzing with activity. One last time. (Yes, I couldn’t resist writing “one last time” one last time.)

It truly was an “Everything Must Go” kind of scene. These stadium signs were available for about $6 a piece, a small price to pay for one’s very own “VIP Reception” sign. I totally would have hung that on my bedroom door during my teenage years.

050There was a Hartford merchandise kiosk set up on the concourse as well. Everything must goat!

036As you can see, New Britain Stadium does not have an open concourse. Seeking the sunlight, I traversed up the stairs and onto the aisle.

011Rocky the Rock Cat was mingling with the fans.

013While traversing the concourse, I ran into devoted ballpark traveler Doug Kern. He’s been to 189 ballparks in his life, but New Britain Stadium was his “home” ballpark. August 30th marked the 229th Rock Cats game he would attend; the team had posted a 115-113 record in the 228 had that preceded it.

Here’s a photo of Doug’s scorecard from the first Rock Cats game he ever attended: April 15, 1999  against the Trenton Thunder (then a Boston affiliate). Tomo Ohka got the win for the Thunder; Shea Hillebrand was ejected. Backstreet Boys (probably) played on the PA.
014Shortly after speaking with Doug, I noticed that Rock Cats players and staff were tossing all manner of memorabilia into the crowd. Everything must throw!

015Fixing a “VIP Reception” sign around my neck as a makeshift credential. I proceeded onto the field for a closer look.

Thanks for the autographs, guy in khakis!

020Nobody asked me for an autograph, though my presence on the field apparently made me quite conspicuous.

Of far more interest to the average baseball fan was one Rollie Fingers, who was to take part in a celebrity softball game that had been scheduled (by the city of New Britain, not the Rock Cats)  to take place after the game. Here Rollie poses with Rock Cats (and now Yard Goats) general manager Tim Restall and his kids. It’s fitting that the GM of the Yard Goats would have kids.


A VIP of a different sort was this guy, number 35.


That’s Colorado Rockies first baseman Justin Morneau, who was in the midst of a rehab assignment with the Rock Cats. It was a case of great timing, as the Rock Cats were a Twins affiliate from 1995 through 2014 and Morneau originally came up through the Twins system. He played for the Rock Cats from 2001-03, so it was something special that he was able to return for the last-ever homestand at New Britain Stadium. In fact, two nights before, Morneau made his 2015 Rock Cats debut in front of the largest crowd in franchise history. This crowd had to wait through an unusual pre-game delay; it was “First Responders Night,” and a fire truck parked in the outfield as part of the pregame ceremonies ended up doing significant damage to the turf.

Minor League Baseball, always the best:

But there would be no such delays on this Sunday afternoon. Everything was proceeding according to plan, including one of the longest ceremonial “first” pitch lines that I had ever been a part of.

028I jumped into the line and tossed out my customary perfect strike.

Photo: Kevin Pataky

Photo: Kevin Pataky

The final first pitch was thrown by Rocky himself.

029After that, it was time for the singing of our National Anthem. One last time.


And with that, Part One of this New Britain blog series draws to a close. Stay tuned Monday for Part Two, in which I write about the Rock Cats one last time.

An Eponymous Burger and Whiz Wit Everything in Connecticut

To see all posts from my August 29, 2015 visit to the Connecticut Tigers (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

This guy, his name is Paul Woodin. He’s standing on the concourse of Dodd Stadium, home of the Connecticut Tigers, waiting for the Burger Barn to cook him a couple of burgers.

042While he waits, let’s get to know Paul a little bit. He lives in Norwich and works for a local submarine designer and manufacturer — a major employer in the area — doing pipe drafting, design and development.

“It’s just drawing on a computer,” he said, modestly.

Paul is also a big fan of the Connecticut Tigers. He estimates that he attends 25 of the team’s games each season often accompanied by his wife, Sarah, and daughter, Rayne. Paul and Sarah had their first date at a nearby New Britain Rock Cats game, and he later proposed to her atop the dugout at Dodd Stadium. They tied the knot at Dodd as well.

“We got married at home plate,” he said. “We played on the field that morning, and then I showered in the clubhouse.”

Paul was waiting for burgers at the Burger Barn because he was the evening’s designated eater (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). The Burger Barn, which. predictably, sells burgers, was our first stop.


An array of burgers are available at the Burger Barn. Most of them are self-explanatory. Some aren’t. If you don’t know, you better ask somebody.


There was also a one-night only special, named in honor of — wait for it — me.

031The Ben’s Biz Burger consisted of bacon, habanero jack cheese and an onion ring atop a cinnamon bun.

043Now, some might consider this a form of cruelty — to name a burger after someone who has a medical condition that renders burgers (or at least burger buns) off-limits. Cinnamon buns are decidedly not gluten-free.

But I didn’t look at it like that. At my current level of initiative and accomplishment, nothing of substance is ever going to be named for me. There will never be a Ben’s Biz Bridge or a Ben’s Biz Ballpark, though one day I may undergo a Ben’s Biz Bypass. So I looked at the Ben’s Biz Burger as an honor, perhaps the pinnacle of my professional career.

046And this is why I have a designated eater in the first place, for crying out loud. So take it away, Paul.

“Oh my God! It’s so good! It’s the cinnamon bun!” exclaimed Paul. “The cinnamon bun and the onion both make it sweet.”

“The savory and the sweet work well together,” added Sarah, Paul’s wife, who couldn’t resist taking a bite.

“The frosting of the cinnamon bun, you can taste it more than the burger,” said Paul. “Maybe it needs ketchup.”

“No way,” replied Sarah, correctly.

Next up from the Burger Barn was “The Rabelo”, named after Connecticut Tigers manager Mike Rabelo. It’s a burger topped with American cheese and a split Italian sausage. And, unlike the Ben’s Biz Burger, its namesake can actually eat it!

045Extreme close-up.

048“I’m eating the manager,” said Paul as he directed the burger toward his maw.

049“It’s a meat lovers dream,” said Paul, after taking a bite of the manager. “It all flows really well, and the hot Italian sausage really gives it a kick. It sneaks up on you.”

The Burger Barn is located far down the first base line. Its third base counterpart is “Philly’s”, a ballpark outpost of a beloved Norwich cheesesteak purveyor.

This picture was taken earlier in the day, but it looked pretty much the same when we got there.

012Here’s a glimpse at the menu. I’ll tell you what — Philly cheesesteaks are one of the things I miss most now that I’m gluten-free. I also miss Reubens, fried chicken and not having to justify my food choices to people who shouldn’t care one way or the other.


Paul had just eaten two burgers, but no matter. He went for the Broad Street Bully aka “The Works.” As you can see from the above menu, the Broad Street Bully consists of rib eye steak, provolone, fried onions, mushrooms, sweet and hot peppers, pickles and Cheez Whiz. Oh, and extra rib eye steak.


052A closer look.

053If you’ve made a choice to eat The Broad Street Bully, then you’ve made a choice to get messy. Paul wisely positioned the sandwich container below him so that it would catch the inevitable spillage. This wasn’t his first rodeo.

055“It’s fantastic, really spicy. I can taste everything,” said Paul. “It was freshly made right in front of me, and now it’s falling apart everywhere. It’s nice to scoop up. It’s absolutely phenomenal and I pity you for not being able to eat this.”

Sarah soon joined in on the other end of the Broad Street Bully. This is true love right here, another chapter in a storied ballpark romance.

056Paul had had (more than) enough food at this point, so now it was time for an aperitif at the Tigers’ Retro Beer Bar. This is a haven for those who have eschewed the craft beer “revolution” and still prefer easy drinking domestics. Paul had Pabst Blue Ribbon, Ballantine Ale, Schaefer’s and Schlitz to choose from. He went with a PBR, which, if you drink enough of them, often leads to “blue ribbin'” at a baseball game. As in, an increased propensity to heckle the umpires.

Ah, nevermind. Have a beer, Paul.

058“It’s a nice refreshing drink on a little bit of a hot night,” said Paul.

And what else more could there be to say?

“I’m really full.”

On the Road: Perfect Strikes and Sub-tacular Views in Connecticut

To see all posts from my August 29, 2015 visit to the Connecticut Tigers (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

Part One of this Connecticut Tigers blog series left us in the home dugout, as a “Happy” dance party came to a premature conclusion. But there was no reason for disappointment, as the highlight of the evening was soon to come.

I am talking, of course, about me throwing out the game’s ceremonial first pitch. I displayed perfect form, as always, and threw a perfect strike.

As always.

pitch 2 The pregame festivities then continued apace, as my security detail rushed me out of the ballpark and into this “General Dynamics Electric Boat.”

IMG_0292General Dynamics is a massive global aerospace and defense company whose electric boat division (or sub division, if you will) is headquartered in nearby Groton. The United States Coast Guard Academy, meanwhile, is located in New London. This thriving sub culture motivated the names of the Tigers’ predecessors at Dodd Stadium: The Norwich Navigators (1995-2005) and Connecticut Defenders (2006-09).

The electric boat seen in the photo above is a Class A Short Season-sized approximation of the Major League aquatic war machines made by General Dynamics. The Tigers’ version is attached to a trailer, used on land and accommodates just one person. This person is tasked with throwing t-shirts to the crowd, and on this evening that person was me.

Getting into the electric boat is no easy task, as it involves crawling underneath it and then climbing up within. Once ensconced, I snapped this photo of my chauffeurs (one of whom was snapping a photo of me).

IMG_0294But it wasn’t yet t-shirt time. First, the electric boat was parked in the outfield during the singing of our National Anthem. This was the view.

IMG_0295While parked in the outfield, I had this unfortunate Tiger in my crosshairs.

IMG_0296And now, a sub tweet.

Finally, it was time to display my sub dominance.

sub 2

A Me-Boat, not a U-Boat.

sub 4Once the sub was off of the field, the game began. I spent the remainder of the evening’s daylight hours gallivanting about with my designated eater (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). Following standard operating procedure, that will be documented in the next post.

I then spent a couple of innings with Glenn Carberry, the man for whom the concourse is named.

059So why is the concourse named after Carberry? It’s an interesting story. 

Finally, it was wanderin’ time. Berm to the left of me.

063Bushes to the right.


Here I am, making my Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day.

I then became enamored and maybe a little obsessed with the name of this business. Paquette Electric. It’s just fun to say. It rolls right off the tongue.

065I took it upon myself to write Paquette Electric a slogan:

FullSizeRender Translated:

Oh, right. There was a game going on. It was now in the 10th inning.


The Spinners had scored three runs in the top of the 10th inning to take a 4-1 lead, but the Tigers weren’t about to go gently into that Norwich night. They scored two runs in the bottom of the 10th, at which point they had runners at the corners and one out. You won’t believe what happened next:


6-4-3 double play. Game over. Lowell wins.

070In what was certainly a rarity, especially on a Saturday night, there were no post-game activities. No fireworks. No launch-a-ball. No kids-run-the-bases. No scout campover. No live band on the party deck. No nothing. I found it kind of refreshing.

Therefore my evening at Dodd Stadium was complete. I had followed these simple rules, and everything worked out just fine.

Words to live by:


On the Road: Norwich the Way to Go in Connecticut

To see all posts from my August 29, 2015 visit to the Connecticut Tigers (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

Okay, we’re in the homestretch now! Today’s post marks the first installment of substance in my “New England 2015” blog series, covering my final ballpark trip of the year.  The journey began on August 29 in Connecticut and ended on September 4 in Portland, at which point my season of ballpark travel was finally, mercifully, complete.

We’ll  begin at the beginning: Norwich, home of the New York-Penn League’s Connecticut Tigers (Class A Short Season affiliate of the Detroit Tigers). This visit completed the New York-Penn League for me, as I have now visited all 14 active teams in the circuit (as well as the now-defunct Jamestown Jammers).

The Tigers, perhaps aware of the historical significance of my visit, laid down the social media welcome mat for me.

Dodd Stadium is located in a Norwich business park, a rather unusual location for a professional stadium. It’s also an unusual location for a family-run diner with an attached batting cage. That diner is Stott’s At-Bat; I stopped by while en route to the ballpark.

006Stott’s At-Bat, as it looked immediately after I parked my rental car (a Dodge Charger) in front of it.

005I stopped by Stott’s because, prior to my visit, I had been informed by the Tigers front office that proprietor Jean Stott is “like a second mother” to the team.

003That story checked out and, thus, I wrote a feature story of my own about Jean, her business, and her relationship to the Tigers. Check it out HERE.

Stott’s At-Bat is located just down the road from Senator Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium, henceforth referred to as Dodd Stadium, which opened in 1995 as the home of the Double-A Norwich Navigators. The team changed its name to the “Connecticut Defenders” prior to the 2006 season, and after the 2009 campaign that franchise relocated to Richmond, Virginia and became the Flying Squirrels. The Connecticut Tigers took up occupancy in Dodd in 2010, after relocating from Oneonta, New York.

You got all that? There will be a test.

008In the above photo, please note that the Detroit Tigers logo on the right-hand side has been inverted into a “C” to represent Connecticut. The statue, meanwhile, is of original Norwich Navigators mascot Tater the Gator. His toes are also inverted.

041My Dodd Stadium tour guide was assistant general manager Dave Schermerhorn, which I believe he pronounced “Shermer-horn”. (Here in New York City, Schermerhorn Street is pronounced “Skimmer-horn”.) Dave is an atypical Minor League front office executive, in that he grew up in Norwich and was a diehard Navigators fan from the jump. He attended the first-ever game at Dodd Stadium:

Here, Dave poses with a picture of himself as a kid posing with a quartet of mid-’90s Navigators. I believe that one of the players in the picture is Tyrone Horne, the only man in professional baseball history to hit for the home run cycle.

072Dodd Stadium from the inside.

022A pleasant walk along the concourse soon ensued. Here, we have the “Retro Beer Bar,” which specializes in cans of cheap domestics. I found this to be an appealing counterpoint to the craft beer-mania that has swept through the Minors over the past several seasons. The menu consists of Pabst, Schlitz, Schaefer’s and Ballantine Ale. Next season, they should up the old man quotient and offer complimentary pickled eggs. (And who cares what the Board of Health has to say about it.)

034Out in left field is a ballpark offshoot of Norwich’s beloved “Philly’s” cheesesteak joint. It looks like some players and/or coaches were in the mood for a pregame meal. Or perhaps the guy on the right was attempting to dissuade his counterpart on the left.
012To the right of Philly’s is a BBQ Pavilion with a hard-to-pronounce but regionally appropriate name.

013Several cable spool tables dot the concourse, which the team obtained free of charge from Norwich Public Utility. This is an idea that originated with the Vermont Lake Monsters.

“We just sand ’em, lacquer ’em and put ’em up,” said Dave.

014Upstairs we visited the Yard Bar and Grill, comprising an area that used to consist of seven separate suites.

015There is an excellent array of artwork throughout the suites, much of it done by Dennis Lavorato. This, depicting players from the first Navigators team, is a work in progress as Lavorato changes the players so that they now represent the Connecticut Tigers.

017This painting is of Jake Robbins, who went on to pitch 1.2 innings over two appearances with the 2004 Cleveland Indians. In one of those appearances, he surrendered a home run to Jacque Jones.

026Suites are better from the outside, especially on a beautiful Saturday evening in late August.

023Back on the concourse, we strolled past the Burger Barn in right field.

030The evening’s special was named for me!

Oh, no, wait. This sounds more like a “Roethlis-burger.”

028Take Two:

031I’ll have more on the Ben’s Biz Burger, and the Burger Barn, and Philly’s, in a future post in this series.

For now, our concourse tour continues back down the first base line. This is the “Hole in the Wall Bar,” built prior to the 2011 season. Dave explained that the bar was built by a former groundskeeper as a form of therapy, as he was “pulling his hair out” after witnessing the damage done to the field during an offseason Relay for Life-style charitable race.

This bar’s name is literal, as the kegs are tapped through holes in the wall.

032At this juncture, the gates had opened.

033Some of the early arrivals were perusing the offerings in the team store. Note the netting. It’s a nice touch.

035I had no time to shop, however, as C.T. the Tiger was waiting for me down in the dugout.

036C’mon, everybody. Get “Happy”.

It’s always good to close on a note of disappointment. So thus concludes Part One of this CT Tigers saga.


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