Results tagged ‘ On the Road ’

On the Road: A Hit and Run and Hits and Runs in Pulaski

To see all posts from my July 2 visit to the Pulaski Yankees, click HERE. To see all my posts from my June/July 2016 Appalachian League Road Trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

We have now reached the second post in this Pulaski blog series; the ballgame is underway at Calfee Park. But don’t take my word for it, take it from the 1000-word equivalent that is this picture.

img_0101And here’s another picture, for good measure.

img_0104At one point, fairly early in the ballgame, I overheard a snippet of staff member conversation: “Somebody hit the visitor’s bus and drove off, so the police are down there.”

I went “down there” to investigate.

I don’t know if the parking lot bus-smasher was ever apprehended, but I do know that the Pirates were peeved.

I had seen the Bristol Pirates the previous week at their home ballpark of Boyce Cox Field. That game was an error and wild pitch-laden comeback victory over the Greeneville Astros. This game, however, was even wilder. At the end of five innings, the Yanks and the Pirates were knotted 10-10.

img_0105The above is a photo of the Calfee Park videoboard, which I believe is the first videoboard in the history of the Appalachian League. Kevin Cornelius, the man batting at the time, only played 13 games for Pulaski. He compiled a 1.326 OPS and was summarily promoted to Class A Advanced Tampa.

A recurring theme of my Appy League trip was being corrected on my various mispronunciations. It’s “Appa-Latch-in League”, not “Appa-lay-shin League”, for example. And when referring to the “Elizabethton Twins,” make sure to put the emphasis on “Beth.” “Pulaski” is another name I butchered, as I was pronouncing it “Pull-aski.”

Fortunately, Cole the batboy was there to set me straight. Watch and learn:

While the weather earlier in the day had been mediocre at best, it turned out to be a beautiful night for baseball in Pulaski.

img_1839Eventually, I made my way to the “Left VIP Tower.”


While there, I interviewed David Hagan. Hagan and his partner, Larry Shelor, bought the team and the ballpark after the 2014 season. My article about the subsequent turnaround in the team’s fortunes can be found HERE.

img_1846I spoke with David for the better part of an hour, and still there was baseball left to be played. Bristol scored two in the sixth inning to take a 12-10 lead, but the Yankees countered with one in the seventh and two more in the eighth to go up 13-12.

Bristol answered back in the ninth. A sacrifice fly tied it up 13-13 and then Victor Fernandez hit a two-run double to open up a 15-13 lead for the visitors.

The Yankees were not about to go quietly. Isiah Gilliam hit a two-out double, and Cornelius followed with an RBI single. Then, this happened:

A line out to third to end the ballgame.

The 15-14 score conjured memories of the most painful baseball game I ever watched in my life. A tip of the cap to Pulaski media relations intern Jarah Wright, who kept a coherent scorecard throughout the madness.

img_1853After the game I paid a visit to the wall cat, a lawn ornament that has long resided just to the right of the right field foul pole. General manager Blair Hoke told me that the wall cat was removed during stadium renovations and, when it wasn’t immediately restored to its longtime home, “we got more hate mail about that than we did about anything else.”

img_1855Before making a feline for the exits, I wrote and disseminated a Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day.

Good night from a Calfee Park bathroom.


On the Road: Old Becomes New in Pulaski

To see all posts from my July 2 visit to the Pulaski Yankees, click HERE. To see all my posts from my June/July 2016 Appalachian League Road Trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

After the 2014 season, Pulaski’s Appalachian League franchise was in dire straits, and I don’t mean Mark Knopfler’s best known musical project. The franchise had money for nothin’, including much-needed stadium improvements for 80-year-old Calfee Park. The Mariners severed their affiliation when their season ended, and the future looked bleak. Perhaps Pulaski, a longtime Appy League market, would no longer serve as a breeding ground for future sultans of swat.

A dramatic turnaround soon occurred, however, when two local businessmen bought the team and ballpark and spent over $4 million on stadium improvements (and opened a new team hotel, the Jackson Park Inn, in close proximity to the ballpark). The Yankees hopped on board as a new affiliate, and in each of the last two seasons Pulaski has led the league in attendance. For much more on this impressive revitalization, read my article.

I’m a VIP no matter what I do, so of course I had a VIP parking pass. While this pass netted me a good — nay, great — parking space, it also led me to enter the ballpark via this nondescript entrance.

img_0060Really, you’re better off entering via the fortress-like outfield entrance, which gives a much better sense of Calfee Park’s WPA-era roots. This ballpark, built in 1935, is one of the oldest in Minor League Baseball.


Calfee Park is located in a residential area, so parking really is scarce. It also makes fireworks shows an impossibility. The team has its own trolley — originally the Lady Rebecca, rechristened the Yankee Express — which transports fans who had to park in more far-flung locations.


Upon entering the stadium, I was greeted by mascot Calf-E.

img_0062I also ran into dedicated Minor League ballpark traveler Dean Packer, who I last crossed paths with at a West Virginia Black Bears game. He may not look it, but check out his wristband. Dean is over 21.

img_0063I also crossed paths with J.W. Gravely, who covers the Pulaski Yankees (and more) for


I also said hello to two of the Calfee Girls, a new addition to the ballpark’s entertainment landscape.

Meeting the above individuals, combined with the hospitality of general manager Blair Hoke, immediately made Calfee Park seem like a welcoming place. Persistently rainy weather most certainly put a damper on the walk-up sales, but a decent crowd was filing in for some Saturday evening Appy League baseball.


This Wall of Fame illustrates Calfee Park’s long baseball history, and also illustrates how often I am driven to distraction while putting these blog posts together. Did you know? Everett Fagan, the first player who competed at Calfee Park to make the Major Leagues, went 2-7 over 38 appearances with the Philadelphia Athletics. He’s no longer among the living.

img_0070The concession stand, one of many new additions to the ballpark, is located behind home plate. You will not get hit by a foul ball while waiting for your food.

img_0071David Hagan, the main man behind the Pulaski baseball rebirth, also owns the Shelor Motor Mile automobile dealership complex. That explains why the team store looks like this.

img_0072 Out on the field, the players were practicing their dance routines.

img_0073But who needs a ticket to the game when you can watch it from your front porch?

img_1836I have become accustomed to throwing out a first pitch before a game, but on this occasion I was asked to be the “Play Ball Kid.” Or, rather, “Play Ball Man.”

“Okay, Ben, what are the two magic words?” I was asked.

“Free beer!” yelled a fan, before I could respond.

I should have taken a cue from that fan, and repeated his answer into the microphone. Instead, I stuck to the script and yelled “Play Ball!” The next post will detail that which occurred while ball was being played.


On the Road: Loving the Bologna in Elizabethton

To see all posts from my June 29 visit to the Elizabethton Twins, click HERE. To see all my posts from my June/July 2016 Appalachian League Road Trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right). 

As befits a Rookie-level team working out of a small, city-owned ballpark, the Elizabethton Twins offer a fairly limited range of concessions. But what they do, they do well. I learned this during the evening I spent at the team’s Joe O’Brien Field, where the food offerings are served out of “Miss Jane’s Hardball Cafe.”


I did not sample the food offerings myself, of course. That task fell to Mr. Daniel Buck, my designated eater for the evening. It would be Daniel’s task to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.


Daniel, who lives in Elizabethton, is a truck driver. He runs the same route each day, working from 4:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., driving from Elizabethton to Roanoke, Virginia and back. He delivers tires while putting significant wear on his own, traveling approximately 1850 miles a week. His route includes stops in locales such as Marion, Chilihowie and Saltville (which, as he pointed out, was “the salt capital of the Confederacy“). Daniel was at the ballgame with his wife, Jennifer, and two and a half-month old grandbaby, Nariah. Yes, grandbaby. (Daniel is the same age as me, and he has a granddaughter. For me to attain grandfather status, I’d have to have some kids first.)

Food and beverage director Bruce Miller presented Daniel with two E-Twins specialties: the Fried Crown Bologna sandwich ($3) and a bratwrust ($4).


Daniel began with the bologna.

Bruce, who’s been the food and beverage director for seven years, explained that he prioritizes “good stuff and good products” and that the bologna is no exception.

“I get it from a meat company, you can’t buy it like this,” he said, while declining to name the company in question. “They make it for me, cuts that are as big as a hamburger. There’s five or six ounces of bolognan[in each sandwich], and I put a little butter on the bread.”

Daniel was an instantaneous fan of the bologna.

“Well, it was gone fast,” he said, after polishing it off in a matter of minutes. “It wasn’t overcooked, and cut thick. I can’t make ’em like that. I’m breaking out in a sweat, it was so good. That was a Carter County steak, right there.”

Next up was the bratwurst.


“It’s what you’d expect from a good ol’ ballpark bratwurst,” said Daniel. “It’s got a kick to it. I still love the bologna a little better and that’s saying something.”

img_0203This was all washed down with eastern Tennessee’s “energy drink” of choice, Dr. Enuf. If you’re in the region, you really owe it to yourself to get a Dr. Enuf. It’s got less distribution than Cheerwine, but beloved by those in the know.

img_1708Daniel wasn’t quite done yet. Dessert was deep-fried Oreos topped with vanilla ice cream.

img_0207Are you jealous?

As the above six seconds of video documentation makes clear, Daniel was a fan of the Oreos. More broadly, he was a big fan of all that was served to him during his time in this Joe O’Brien Field “Sky Box.”

“The food’s awesome,” is how he summed it up.

For that, we have Bruce to thank. I caught up with him later in the day and took this picture:

img_1725Thanks, Bruce! And thanks, Daniel.


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On the Road: Free Admission in Elizabethton

To see all posts from my June 29 visit to the Elizabethton Twins, click HERE. To see all my posts from my June/July 2016 Appalachian League Road Trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right). 

As mentioned previously, I spent the first five nights of my Appalachian League trip in Johnson City (the home of the Cardinals). The other four teams in the league’s West Division are all located nearby, but no team is located closer to Johnson City than the Elizabethton (pronounced Eliza-BETH-ton) Twins. Joe O’Brien Field was a mere 10 miles from my hotel, but I still had some trouble finding it

I needed to make a left hand turn onto the downward-sloping road seen in the above photo, but missed it on my first three attempts. It’s a rather unobtrusive road.

img_0182And Joe O’Brien Field is a rather unobtrusive ballpark, gently enveloped by towering hillside trees. The Watauga River runs behind the third base side.

img_0183I arrived just as the gates opened, and was immediately confused. Fans were just walking in; no one was checking tickets. But as it turned out, this was not only the home opener but also one of the team’s “Free Admission Nights.” The Twins, run by Elizabethton’s parks and recreation department, are a community-oriented team and do their best to make a night at the ballpark an affordable outing.

I’m not sure that any team has ticket prices lower than this:


Upon arriving I spent some time with Twins general manager Mike Mains, whose role with the team is an extension of his position as Elizabethton’s parks and recreations director. My conversations with him formed the basis of this article, which explains more about the team and how it operates. The game at which I was in attendance marked the start of Elizabethon’s 43rd consecutive season as a Minnesota affiliate. There’s lots of history here at Joe O’Brien Field, and it’s a beautiful place to spend an evening.

img_1702Even though it was Opening Day, the pregame festivities were minimal. As part of a league-wide initiative, pitcher Austin Tribby was interviewed on the dangers of dip. “Don’t even consider it,” said Tribby.

Both teams lined up for on-field introductions prior to the game. In the below photo, Twins manager Ray Smith is trotting out toward home plate. Smith is an Elizabethton icon, as 2016 marked his 30th season on the Twins’ coaching staff. Not only that, but he began his playing career in Elizabethton as a member of the 1977 squad.

img_0195Once both teams were identified and accounted for, it was time for a rousing rendition of our National Anthem.

Soon after the ballgame began, I met with my designated eater. Following standard operating procedure, that will be featured in a separate post. The designated eating took place in the stadium “Skybox,” which offers as elevated a vantage point as one is going to get in an Appy League ballpark. The mountains in the background are part of the Appalachian chain.

img_0204While in the skybox I interviewed Dave McQueen, known throughout the ballpark as “Big Dave.”


Big Dave has worked with the team for decades, primarily as head of groundskeeping and clubhouse operations. I didn’t quite have the time to put together a story on Big Dave before leaving on my next trip, but he’s a very energetic and colorful individual. Here’s a snippet of the interview. There’s more where that came from, so get in touch if you want to hear more.

And here’s another Sky Box view. There are banners throughout the seating area honoring prominent Elizabethton alumni, such as Kirby Puckett. Puckett made his debut as a member of the 1982 team, hitting a robust .382.

img_0211The Sky Box stairs are not for the faint of heart.

img_0213Back on level ground, I commenced to wandering.

img_0214On the concourse, the atmosphere was sedate.


While there, I enjoyed this bit of wall art.

img_0217The whole atmosphere was sedate, really. The season had just started, and the fans didn’t seem to be in peak form. They are known for bringing cowbells to the games (Elizabethton is dairy country), and I had been warned that the cowbells can be maddening, but on this Wednesday evening they were used sparingly.

The response to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, meanwhile, was virtually non-existent. Maybe this Dr. John-style rendition just doesn’t resonate in Tennessee.

Regardless of the energy in the park — or lack thereof — I remained smitten with the Joe O’Brien Field experience.

After a brief stop in the press box…

img_0222…I exited the stadium at the third base side and spent some quiet moments along the banks of the Watauga.

The view looking back toward the ballpark:

img_1722The Elizabethton batters looked good in the on-deck circle.

img_1723But they couldn’t get much going at the plate. Final score: Pulaski, 6 Elizabethton 1

img_0226Before heading on my way I wrote and disseminated a Groundbreak and Subversive Ballpark Joke.

After that, I headed back into the wilderness. Good night from Elizabethton.



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On the Road: Sun-scorched in Kingsport

To see all posts from my June 26 visit to the Kingsport Mets, click HERE. To see all my posts from my June/July 2016 Appalachian League Road Trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

Requisite pregame wanderings out of the way, it was time for a ballgame. The Kingsport Mets were hosting the Pulaski Yankees on this incendiary Sunday afternoon, meaning that it was the Appy League equivalent of New York City’s twice-annual “Subway Series.”

Pulaski and Kingsport are located approximately 115 miles from one another. Shockingly, there is no subterranean transportation between the two locales.

So, yeah, I guess I’ll just call it the I-81 Series. Or, as Kingsport assistant general manager Josh Lawson suggested, “Subway Series South.”

Not that I was really watching the game, anyway. Since no one volunteered to be my Designated Eater in Kingsport (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine my gluten-free diet prohibits), Lawson took the job.

Here is what we had to choose from:


And here is what was chosen:

IMG_0080Take it away, Josh:

This so-called “Taco in a Helmet” consists of chips, chili, shredded cheese, lettuce, jalapenos and salsa. Josh explained that it replaced the “Mets Pie” on the concession, menu, the “Mets Pie” being Fritos in a hot dog container covered with cheese and chili and the like.

“[The Taco in Helmet] is real filling, and you get to take home a collectible souvenir also,” he said. “But it took three years before people stopped ordering the Mets Pie. This is the new Mets Pie.”

Josh then had an opportunity to enjoy a Buffalo Chicken Sandwich.

IMG_0082“[General manager] Brian [Paupeck] was saying that no one would want to get their hands dirty with wings,” said Josh. “So why not take our chicken sandwich and make it a Buffalo chicken sandwich? It now outsells our grilled chicken.”

That concluded Josh’s designated eating cameo, but I’m not done writing about the Kingsport Mets concession scene.

Taking a cue from their sister club in St. Lucie, the Mets offer charcoal-grilled pretzels.

IMG_0079They also offers bags of house-made pork rinds, which I (greatly) enjoyed later in the afternoon.

IMG_1569With Josh’s assistance, I crashed a group outing taking place on the first base-side picnic pavilion. There, I received a helping of some primo pulled pork and a side of baked beans.

IMG_0089Also phenomenal was the “Beach Hut Shaved Ice Truck.”

IMG_0087I got “Tiger’s Blood” shaved ice, which contains real tiger’s blood (I’m lion).


“Awesome!” it says in my notes, regarding the taste of Tiger’s Blood. (Don’t be discouraged, young writers. It took me years of practice to be able to describe things so vividly and creatively).

I enjoyed the shaved ice while sitting at the Beer Porch, which featured Mets baseball cards under (plexi)glass. The Beer Porch offers alcoholic beverages from Kingsport-based Sleepy Owl Brewery and Gypsy Cidery.

Josh and I also swung by the team store, where this T-shirt currently reigns as the No. 1 selling piece of apparel.

IMG_0085Despite the flurry of information and imagery I have just hit you with, this was an inordinately sleepy day at the ballpark. It was a sun-baked afternoon and, as you can see, Hunter Wright Stadium doesn’t exactly offer much in the way of shade.


IMG_0094I got some relief from the heat in the press box, which isn’t directly located behind home plate. It’s shaded to the left, and at a bit of an angle.

IMG_0097The press box offers a view of the dog park located beyond the fence in left field and, in the distance, Bays Mountain. At one point in the afternoon, I was told that wolves are raised on the mountain, and that roadkill deer are fed to the wolves. I don’t remember who told me this, but it’s in my notes so it has to be true.

Back on the concourse, I spoke with Rocky and Kyle Horne, the father and older brother of Kingsport pitcher Kurtis Horne. Rocky and Kyle had traveled some 2,800 miles from their home on Canada’s west coast to see Kurtis pitch. My story on them can be read HERE.

horneThrough it all, the sun just kept beating down.


Pulaski went on to win this particular iteration of the “Subway South Series,” by a score of 11-5. The Yankee players celebrated by putting their bodies in close proximity to one another.

IMG_0107By the time the ballgame ended, I wasn’t feeling too well. The heat, combined with that day’s stadium diet of pulled pork and pork rinds, had left me feeling light-headed and nauseous. I spent over a half an hour in the parking lot after the game, desperately trying to come up with a Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke, but I just couldn’t do it. My brain, and body, were shot.

This is me, defeated, completely and totally out of jokes.

IMG_1575Oh, well. I’ll get ’em next time.


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On the Road: Meeting the Mets in Kingsport

To see all posts from my June 26 visit to the Kingsport Mets, click HERE. To see all my posts from my June/July 2016 Appalachian League Road Trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

I began my Appalachian League road trip in Greeneville, Tennessee. The following day I had a new destination, and that destination was some 48 miles northeast of Greeneville: Hunter Wright Stadium, home of the Kingsport Mets. It was a Sunday afternoon, and my overriding memory was that it was hot. But it was also beautiful.

IMG_0069I was greeted outside of the stadium by Kingsport Mets general manager Brian Paupeck, who assumed that position prior to the 2013 season. He came to Kingsport after spending 10 seasons with the St. Lucie Mets, who are both operated by the parent New York Mets. While in St. Lucie, Paupeck apparently learned a thing or two about office decoration from St. Lucie general manager Traer Van Allen.

Here’s Van Allen’s bobblehead collection:


And here’s Paupeck’s, in Kingsport:

IMG_0070A rock quarry is located directly behind Hunter Wright Stadium, and Paupeck reported that controlled explosions at the quarry (which occur two-three times a week) cause the the bobbleheads in his office to start bobbling. It is my hope that one day Paupeck videos this phenomenon and then disseminates it via the internet.

Kingsport has been the Mets’ Rookie-level affiliate since 1980. A veritable who’s-who of future New York Metropolitans have started their careers there, including six who were on the 2015 pennant-winning squad. This season, Kingsport’s Opening Day roster included seven of the team’s top 10 prospects. Surely, the team’s Wall of Fame (or, more accurately, Chain Link Fence Hall of Fame) will continue to grow.

IMG_0072I’m not sure if Slider is on the K-Mets’ Wall of Fame, but he should be. Slider’s bone-wielding skills are top-notch.

IMG_0073Slider had some measure of relief while standing in the so-called “Breezeway”, which leads to the seating bowl. Otherwise, this is a ballpark that provides very little relief from the heat (hence, the team plays the vast majority of its games at night).

IMG_0074Hunter Wright Stadium, owned by the city of Kingsport, opened in 1995. The city leases it to the Kingsport Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, who utilize it as a key piece in their tourism-promoting arsenal. A variety of high school and collegiate tournaments are held there annually, because baseball tournaments lead to greater hotel occupancy rates and greater hotel occupancy rates lead, in turn, to more hotel bed tax revenue.

The construction of Hunter Wright Stadium was more difficult than expected, due to the rocky terrain upon which it was built. A good portion of the budget went toward leveling the land, and the ballpark was built in sections. Therefore it has a bit of a Frankenstein’s Monster quality, with perhaps the most noticeable quirk being the placement of the press box.

The press box isn’t behind home plate, though it is in the general vicinity.  IMG_1564

The field was a nice place to be, outside of, you know, how hot it was. The players were mingling about, which is what players tend to do as game time becomes imminent. They are expert minglers.


The K-Mets, like many teams, have a Field of Dreams program in which local youth teams take the field along with the players. Or, in this case, a not-so-local youth team. The orange-shirted individuals in the below photo came from Cumberland, Kentucky, located approximately 60 miles away.


Pregame introductions gave way, as they often do, to the National Anthem. This particular iteration was a prerecorded organ version. Classic.

Once the anthem had concluded, a ballgame broke out. Sorry to be so predictable, but baseball is predictable. I do my best with the materials that I am given.

IMG_0091There will, of course, be more material to come from Kingsport. I’ll do my best with it.


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On the Road: Classics with a Twist in Greeneville

To see all posts from my June 25 visit to the Greeneville Astros, click HERE. To see all my posts from my June/July 2016 Appalachian League Road Trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

The man in the below photo, his name is Curt Collins.


Curt is a lawyer based in Greeneville, Tennessee. He has his own law firm, specializing in Family Law, Criminal Law and, as his website points out, “more.” But Curt is a man of many talents, not all of them relegated to the courtroom. During the evening I spent at the Greeneville Astros’ home of Pioneer Park, Curt served as my designated eater (you know, the individual recruited to consume the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits).

You had probably already guessed that Curt was my designated eater, given that, in the above photo, he is posing in front of a formidable spread. He and I (and his wife, Aly, who will appear later) were in a Pioneer Park suite, and Curt is no stranger to such environs. He and Aly attend approximately half of the team’s games, and Curt advertises with the club via a recurring between-inning skit featuring the hapless “Convict Carl.” Fans are advised that if they, like Convict Carl, make a bad decision then Curt is the man to call for legal representation.

But anyway, let’s get back to that spread. The Astros’ concessions are handled by Sodexo, which also provides food service for Tusculum College (Pioneer Park is located on the Tusculum campus). In the below photo there are two (2) of each of the following items: The High Heat Burger, Astro Dog, Corn Dog, and Nachos Supreme (in a team-logo helmet).


We began with the High Heat Burger. Said heat is brought via Cajun seasoning, pepper jack cheese and the team’s “High Heat” sauce (it’s mayo-based, with some hot peppers in the mix).

IMG_0033Have at it, Curt.

Curt said that the High Heat “had a good flavor to it” but that “you have to like spicy.” Curt likes spicy. He gave it an eight, on what I assume was a 10-point scale.

Next up was the Astro Dog: a hot dog wrapped in brown sugar-crusted bacon and topped with chipotle mayo, tomato, fried onions and a dill pickle spear.

IMG_0034Curt’s love for the Astro Dog is as boundless as the great outdoors. He had to move out of the suite in order to fully appreciate it.

IMG_0035“This is my favorite,” said Curt. “It’s such a good mix of flavors. The fried onions make a difference, and you can’t go wrong with bacon on a hot dog. The brown sugar gives it a little sweetness, and the brown sugar mixed with the chipotle mayo is such a unique combination. That’s what really makes it. The weirdest part is the tomato. I don’t think I’d miss them.”

The next item on the docket was a corn dog.

IMG_0037“It’s a classic corn dog,” said Curt. “I don’t want to say anything negative, but I guess you need the truth: It’s not hand-dipped. It tastes like something I could make in a microwave.”

Another item to consume necessitated another location change. Here, Curt poses with his Nachos Supreme in front of the concession stand from which it can be obtained.

IMG_0043These nachos are made “supreme” via the addition of cheese, chili, sour cream, tomatoes and jalapenos. Curt said that while they were “loaded nachos, for sure,” they were “not loaded down with too much chili to where the chips get soggy. I’m getting to the bottom and they’re all still crispy.”

When we returned to the suite, Astros general manager David Lane was waiting for us with even more helmet-based cuisine.

IMG_0044These ice cream sundaes included both vanilla and chocolate ice cream and were topped with berries, nuts, chocolate syrup and whipped cream. For dessert, Curt was joined by his wife, Aly.

IMG_0049Kurt and Aly met on July 4th, 2012, but didn’t start dating until a year later. They were married this past May. Aly works for the local Boys and Girls Club, which regularly partners with the Astros on community-minded events.

The newlyweds enjoyed their sundaes.

IMG_0051Kurt declared dessert to be “fantastic,” and not just because he got to share it with his beautiful bride.

“It’s like the ultimate sundae,” he said.

And thus concluded this latest adventure in designated eating.

“I don’t want to keep using the word ‘classic’, but that’s exactly what they’ve got here,” said Curt. “Good, classic food.”


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On the Road: A Dedicated Fan Base in Greeneville

To see all posts from my June 25 visit to the Greeneville Astros, click HERE. To see all my posts from my June/July 2016 Appalachian League Road Trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

Pregame wanderings complete, it was now time to take in a ballgame. (For me, taking in a ballgame simply translates to “more wandering.”)

IMG_1540David Lane, the longtime general manager of the Astros, introduced me to some of the team’s most dedicated fans throughout the game. First I met Arthur and Edith Ricker, who just so happened to be celebrating their 69th wedding anniversary. Arthur delighted in sharing his World War II memories, with Edith often jumping in to steer the conversation back on course. As that impish gleam in her eyes amply illustrates, she was quick with a smile and had a great sense of humor.

“Want me to stick out my tongue?” said Edith, just before this picture was taken.
IMG_0028Later on I met Steve Alexander, part of Greenville’s most celebrated baseball family. Most prominent among them was Steve’s father, Dale, who won the 1932 American League batting title as a member of the Boston Red Sox.

IMG_0053 Finally, there were sisters Norma, Betty and Joyce of nearby Mosheim, Tennessee. The sisters agree that the best player they ever saw play for Greeneville was Jose Altuve, whom Betty called “a little fireball.”

IMG_0055For more on the individuals mentioned above, read my story.

Anyhow, there was still a ballgame going on. There always is.

IMG_0029It was “Olympic Night” at the ballpark, which manifested itself primarily via the staff — and the mascot — wearing over-the-top patriotic t-shirts (I guess all t-shirts are “over-the-top,” come to think of it). Gizmo, the cousin of Houston mascot Orbit, loves America.

IMG_0056If baseball doesn’t work out, maybe Garcia, Pal, Johnson, Castro, Franco, Fernandez and Sanbria (?) can form the country’s most awkwardly-named law firm.


Hitting coach Cesar Cedeno, on the left, was honored this season with a bobblehead/leg featuring his preferred dugout pose. Two undulating appendages for the price of one!

As the game wore on, I spent a couple of innings in the grassy area down the third base line that serves as a promo crew staging area.

IMG_0061Some of the things I saw back there can’t be unseen.

Nah, just kidding, all of the food is alive and well.

IMG_1548The Astros ended up losing the ballgame, 5-3, to the Johnson City Cardinals. My only note involving the game itself was that Greeneville shortstop Jonathan Arauz (who was born just before I entered my sophomore year of college) hit a home run over the right field fence and that a “retrieval effort ensued.” Fascinating stuff, as always.

After the game, I spent some time admiring Pioneer Park’s Greeneville baseball history exhibit.

IMG_0065Once I returned to the field of play, a rather desultory round of Launch-A-Ball was just wrapping up.

IMG_0067That meant it was time for me to wrap things up as well. All that was left to do was write and disseminate my nightly Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke.


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On the Road: Kicking Things Off in Greeneville

To see all my posts from my June 25 visit to the Greeneville Astros, click HERE. To see all my posts from my June/July 2016 Appalachian League Road Trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

Okay. Here we go. Over the last two months I visited the entirety of the Appy League as well as 10 teams throughout California, Nevada, Idaho and Washington. I’ve written features and short blog posts from (nearly) all of these locations, with still more to come. On a personal level, I moved to a new apartment here in NYC and, one month later, have still not finished unpacking. Oh, and the Ben’s Biz T-shirt is now available! The cumulative effect of the above endeavors leads me to my favorite activity of all: excuse making! I just haven’t had the time (some might say the wherewithal) to return to the blog to write the in-depth ballpark recaps you have come to know and, surely, love.

But you know what? Now I’ve got the time. I’ve got it in spades. Today I’ll begin blogging about Appy clubs and their diamonds, with all the heart I muster. So let’s get to it, lest it get to us.


I flew into the city of Asheville, North Carolina, on the morning of June 25. I had no time to be a tourist, however, as I needed to get to neighboring Tennessee as soon as possible. So I hopped into a rental car, cranked up Complete Road Music Volume 1, shed a tear to some Red Sovine and hit the open road.

After checking into a hotel in Johnson City — my home base for the next five nights — I headed to Greeneville to see the Astros. I never quite made it to Greeneville, however, as the Astros actually operate in neighboring Tusculum. Their home of Pioneer Park, built in 2004 and funded via a sizable donation from local businessman/philanthropist Scott Niswonger, is located on the campus of Tusculum College. The Astros run the park between June 1 and September 15; otherwise it is under the control of the college.

IMG_0002Pioneer Park is the newest park in the Appy League. It has 2,500 seats, but can accommodate as many as 3,800 via berm seating. The Astros led the league in attendance from 2004-2014, but last year were dethroned by the Pulaski Yankees and their renovated Calfee Park. They are currently in fourth place in the 2016 attendance rankings, having been passed by the Burlington Royals and Johnson City Cardinals (two teams that have also made improvements to their facilities recently).

One of the first things I saw upon entering the ballpark was pitchers Diogenes Almengo and Patrick Sandoval signing pregame autographs.

IMG_0004Longtime season-ticket holders Bill and Don were not signing autographs, though they probably would if you asked nicely.

IMG_0005I spent an hour or so before the game with Astros general manager David Lane, who, when I arrived at the ballpark, was manning a ticket booth. (Such is life in the Appy League.) Among other locations, we stopped in one of Pioneer Park’s four suites.

IMG_0007This “Wheel of Fun” was donated by the parent Houston Astros. The primo prize, in my opinion, is “game-used item.”

IMG_0009 This Tusculum College athletic field is adjacent to the ballpark.

IMG_0011The clubhouses are located down the right-field line. In the below photo, I like to imagine that the player with the bat is actually carrying a bindle stick and that he has just decided to run away from home. His friend is bidding him goodbye and good luck.

IMG_0013The clubhouses are shared with the Tusculum baseball team, who once boasted a standout player by the name of Boo Morrow.


And wouldn’t you know it? Today (August 30), is Boo Morrow’s birthday.


If you think this closet looks cluttered now, just think about what it looks like after the season ends. Then, the Astros have to stuff it with just about everything they own since they do not have access to the rest of the facility.

IMG_0017Longtime readers of this blog, of which there are several, know that I never pass up the opportunity to take a picture of a trainer’s table.

IMG_0018Clustered in the corner of a hallway were the remnants of the previous night’s fireworks show. MAXX CALIBER! (Lane also spotted four broken bats in the general vicinity, and grabbed them so they could be used as Wheel of Fun “game-used items.”)

IMG_0022The Pioneer Park grounds crew works year-round, on behalf of both the college and the Astros. Their storage space is ample.

IMG_0023Our visit to the dugout was brief, as a game was about to break out.

IMG_0019But before a game begins, patriotic protocols must be followed.

IMG_0025I watched the National Anthem while standing behind these two longtime fans. We’ll meet them in the next post.



About Friday Night: Spokane Indians, August 12, 2016

On Friday night I visited Spokane, Washington, the final stop on my sprawling 10-team California-Nevada-Idaho-Washington road trip. After a not-so-brief travel and sleep delay, I now provide the following brief recap. There will be far more to come on the blog regarding this trip, as well as my previous Appalachian League excursion. 

August 12: Spokane Indians (Class A Short-Season affiliate of the Texas Rangers)

Opponent: Eugene Emeralds, 6:30 p.m.

Avista Stadium, from the outside: 

IMG_0392Avista Stadium, from within: 

IMG_0424Culinary Creation: Bacon Blue Fries (beer-battered fries with blue cheese dressing, blue cheese crumbles and bacon crumbles)

IMG_2777Ballpark Character: Doris the Spokanosaurus

IMG_2771At Random: The Indians are long-time partners of the Spokane Indian tribe; signage throughout the ballpark is in the tribe’s native Salish language.


Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: 

Up Next: 

This trip is over!