Results tagged ‘ On the Road ’

Return to the Road: From One Record Store to Another

I’ve spent the past several days working on season-opening content for MiLB.com, including the first Promo Preview column of the season. Working on season-opening content led me to the realization that the season is ready to open, which led to the realization that I really had better finish writing about my last road trip of 2013! Will today be the day that I finally finish writing about last season. Read on to find out! 

Today’s “Return to the Road” missive is the third in a series, and it picks up where part two left off: in Modesto, Calif., home of the Nuts. The previous night I had witnessed the Nuts play at John Thurman Stadium, and the plan for the day was to head north to Stockton to check out the Ports. Before departing Stockton I met with my compatriots from the night before, so that we could partake in a breakfast meal at Mediterranean Market and Grill in Modesto. For the record, this was the first dining establishment I ever visited that had filing cabinets in the men’s room.

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Also for the record, my compatriots Joe and Bonnie Price and Jon Fischer. I first got to know the Prices in 2011 when Joe, a religious studies professor, sang the National Anthem at over 100 Minor League Baseball ballparks. Jon, who I have known since seventh grade, is an artist and teacher living in San Francisco. (He has recently featured me in one of his works, blogging without a shirt on).

Anyhow, thumbs up to the Mediterranean Grill. It was on the pricey side, but the food was on point.

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From left to right: Joe Price, Bonnie Price, Jon

Before leaving Modesto, I followed standard operating procedure and visited a local record store. Welcome to Salty’s Record Attic.

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I was immediately charmed by Salty’s, which was chock-a-block with used vinyl, cds, paperbacks, and pop culture ephemera.

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Unfortunately, Salty’s prices were uniformly exorbitant (even when factoring in the sale discounts, seen advertised above). I’m not sure what their clientele is, but I wasn’t about to pay $25 for a used LP I could easily get for $10 or less in NYC. But it was a charming spot, and the woman working there was friendly, so I didn’t leave empty handed. In my hands, in place of the emptiness, was a Bob Wills record and a copy of George Plimpton’s Paper Lion. (Although, now that I’m looking again at the above picture, I have to ask myself why I didn’t buy The 10cc Story). 

The visit to Salty’s represented my final order of business in Modesto. The next stop was Stockton, located just 30 miles away. Would it be magnificent, as advertised?

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The drive north was a breeze, and I spent the afternoon touring some of Stockton’s cultural highlights with city sports development director Tim Pasisz serving as my tour guide. My favorite stop was certainly the Wat Dharmararan Cambodian Buddhist Temple. The spacious outdoor grounds of the temple boast dozens of larger-than-life and dazzlingly colored statues that together illustrate the life of Buddha.

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My time exploring the city with Pasisz was chronicled in this MiLB.com story, and that evening I attended the Ports game. Would you believe that, before moving on to my next destination or Reno, I managed to visit a record store?

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How’s that for a cliffhanger ending? More to come from the West Coast, eventually, but tomorrow’s post shall deal with more timely matters…

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: Visalia, Modesto, and Fresno In-Between

Welcome to the latest installment of “Return to the Road,” in which I re-trace my steps during my third and final road trip of the 2013 campaign in order to bring you all of the non-ballpark content that’s fit to print. The previous post in the series began in amid the vast expanse of Bakersfield and ended at Visalia’s Lamp Liter Inn, surely one of the quaintest team-affiliated hotels in all of Minor League baseball.

The Lamp Liter still issues honest-to-God keys, and the room signage was a definite blast from the past.

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The on-site diner was similarly retro:

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Before leaving Visalia I headed downtown and took a stroll. Most of the Central Valley California towns I visited on this trip were rough-around-the-edges and possessed an air of general economic despair, but the core of Visalia I found to be surprisingly vibrant. A brief photo tour, starting with a record store that was, unfortunately, closed on Mondays (marking the second day in a row my attempts to visit a local record store were thwarted).

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I was very taken with Visalia, but my momentary illusion that it was some sort of small town utopia quickly received a reality check.

016 Finally, a bit of history, delivered via the time honored method of plaque-on-boulder.

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I didn’t get any lunch in Visalia. My next stop was Fresno, and in that city my first order of business was to go on a brief tour of notable area taco trucks. This tour, arranged by members of the Fresno Grizzlies front office, was covered extensively on MiLB.com. In brief, I had a really good time!

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My time at that evening’s Fresno Grizzlies game has also been extensively documented. Among many highlights of my time at the ballpark was my encounter with this particularly committed “designated eater” (ie, the individual recruited at each ballpark to consume the gluten-free cuisine that my celiac disease prohibits).

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The next day I made a pit stop at E. Olive Street in Fresno.

003The motivation for this pit stop was the same as so many other pit stops that I make while on these road trips: I had been tipped to the existence of an independent record store.

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This particular record store was called Spinners. Welcome!

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I picked up a few moderately-priced used classic rock LPs (Michael Nesmith, Humble Pie, Black Oak Arkansas), bantered with the friendly clerks for a bit, and then was on my way out of Fresno.

Next stop: Modesto, home of the Nuts. As is my standard operating procedure on these trips, I entered the ballpark while waving to my fans while riding atop a ’59 Corvette.

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You can read all about my evening with the Nuts HERE. Part three of this series will pick up with my wanderings the next day in Modesto. A visit to a record store may have been involved.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: In-N-Out of Bakersfield and on to Visalia

The 2014 season is almost upon us, and my recent realization of its imminence quickly led to another, related, realization: I had better finish writing about my 2013 road trips!

As you probably know, I went on three road trips during the 2013 campaign: A Southern Swing, some Midwest League Meandering, and, finally, a little bit of West Coast Wandering. Every last ounce of material from those first two trips has been wrung dry, but, today, it’s time to “Return to the Road” for the third and final time this season. I have odds and ends from the West Coast to share!

This particular trip took place in August, beginning in Bakersfield, Calif. and concluding in Hillsboro, Ore. I arrived in Bakersfield at about 3:30 on Saturday morning, after driving in from LAX, and following a good night’s sleep I pulled back the hotel room curtain to reveal this landscape.

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Just across this vast expanse of asphalt was a water park, an appropriate entertainment destination for those residing within this arid atmosphere.

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After sleeping late and doing a little bit of writing, there wasn’t much time to explore Bakersfield before heading to that evening’s Blaze game. So, rather unambitiously, I set my GPS coordinates toward a local In-N-Out Burger.

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While I find the slavish devotion of its chief adherents to be a bit comical, there is no doubt that In-N-Out Burger is an above-average fast food establishment. I’ve made a point to eat there whenever I’m on the west coast, but this time around my patronage was strategic as well. I was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2012, and since then good gluten-free fast food options have been hard to come by. In-N-Out Burger, with its minimal, fresh menu, provides an easy option: protein style, in which lettuce is used as a bun (yes, I promise that there is a burger somewhere in there). The fries are “animal style,” with a thousand island-esque dipping sauce.

2916I spent that evening at Sam Lynn Stadium, home of the Blaze, which resulted in some of my best writing of the season (if I do say so myself, which I just did). The next morning I checked out of the Marriott — watch the Vine! — and spent an hour or so exploring downtown Bakersfield. Here’s “Lyles College of Beauty,” which I drove past while en route to World Records.

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World Records was closed.

002It was late on a Sunday morning, and downtown was so silent as to be a little eerie. What few sounds there were (a car passing by, the cough of a pedestrian) seemed magnified, momentarily overtaking my entire aural landscape. The scene, as I recorded it.

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The Prospect Lounge — where Bakersfield’s Minor League elite go to eat?

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Amid this desultory wandering I located another record store and this, too, was closed.

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Did anybody go to this show? If so, I’d be happy to publish your review on this blog.

Since there didn’t seem to be too many lunch options in downtown Bakersfield proper, I instead went, once again, to In-N-Out Burger. Different location, but the meal remained the same. (Perhaps also worth noting is that, according to my notes, Bakersfield’s 89.7 is a “great radio station.” Further investigation reveals that to be KSVG “Savage Radio,” a community-owned non-profit.)

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The evening before, while attending the Blaze game, assistant general manager Philip Guiry told me about a vintage store called “Hidden Treasures” that he was a fan of. It sounded like an offbeat place, the kind of spot you go to if you’re trying to make a doll head necklace, so I decided to try and check it out.

My “Hidden Treasures” internet research brought me to, well, I don’t know where I was. All I know is that I couldn’t find a place called “Hidden Treasures.”

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Since I wasn’t in the market for a 420 evaluation, I reluctantly left the Bakersfield area for good. Visalia, home of the Rawhide, was next up on the agenda, and my first impression of Visalia was distinctly positive. Welcome to the Lamp Liter Inn, one of the quaintest team hotels one can find in the world of Minor League Baseball.

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That Sunday evening I attended the Visalia Rawhide game, writing about alligator hexes and giant pretzels and whatnot. The next morning began at the Lamp Liter Inn, and that’s where tomorrow’s post shall begin as well. Until then, I remain,

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Guest Post: Saying Goodbye to the Huntsville Stars

Earlier this month I wrote a post asking for suggestions regarding my 2014 road trip itineraries. Responses flowed in (well, perhaps trickled in) via both email and Twitter, but an email I received from one Gillian Richard stood out above the rest. Richard is a passionate fan of and advocate for the Huntsville Stars and their home of Joe Davis Stadium, and as I read her email it became apparent to me that hers is a perspective worth sharing. While this may have been addressed to me specifically, it can — and should! — be read as a message to all Minor League Baseball fans: Get thee to Huntsville in 2014!

Enjoy, and after reading get thee to MiLB.com and read this blog post’s companion piece, my interview with Stars general manager Buck Rogers.

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photo: Gillian Richard

Hey Ben,

I just wanted to add my thoughts about your 2014 road trip itinerary, on behalf of the Huntsville Stars. I’ve been a Stars Fan for a long time (since birth, actually. I’m from Huntsville), and I’m really sad to see the team go at the end of the year. However, since it is the last year for the team, I think they are very deserving of a spot on your itinerary.

While the team doesn’t have the best reputation within the Minors, it holds a special place in my heart. Being in the South, baseball usually comes second to college football, but it was never that way for me, and that’s largely because of the Huntsville Stars. I grew up going to games, and I worked at “The Joe” for two summers that went by way too fast. It was at Joe Davis Stadium that I fell in love with the game, and during my second season there that I realized all I ever want to do in life is wake up and work at a ballpark. I poured my heart and soul into that summer, and I was paid back tenfold because of the people who worked there and, of course, because of the game.

 Joe Davis Stadium has a lot more to offer than it’s given credit for. Being the oldest stadium in the league has its perks, one of which is the great wildlife you can find inside the park! Gary the Groundhog was the subject of many conversations, and I think it’s safe to say he’s the unofficial mascot of the Stars. (He even has his own Twitter handle.) One of my cats was a stray I found running around after a game, so I took him home and named him Joe Davis. It just seemed like the right thing to do. There are countless other things that make the stadium unique, and I’m sure you could find several long-time season ticket holders who can share even better stories than what I’ve got. I can think of several people who feel the same way I do about this place, as a matter of fact.

Photo: Ben's Biz

Photo: Ben’s Biz

So maybe the attendance numbers aren’t as good as they could be. Maybe I spent my 20th birthday spray painting a tarp to cover a hole in the batter’s eye because the stadium is outdated. But despite those things, I can’t think of a staff or a stadium more deserving of recognition. Isn’t Minor League Baseball supposed to be about the historic instead of these brand new, high-tech stadiums anyways? About spending an afternoon in the cheap seats, appreciating the simple things in life? Focusing more on the talent and the crazy promotions than on the stadium amenities? That’s what I love about the game, anyways. And that’s what I’ve gotten out of the countless nights I’ve spent at The Joe throughout my life.

If nothing else I’ve said makes you at least consider coming to Huntsville to help me say goodbye to my team, we have a sweet used record store that’s trip-worthy! I would be more than happy to show you all Huntsville has to offer, which is more than you might think.

I don’t know if you’ll be able to make time for it, but I would appreciate you considering it. Baseball is one of those things that gets in your blood and stays forever, especially for those of us who have chosen to make careers out of loving a game. The Huntsville Stars are definitely in my blood, and even though all my merchandise will become vintage come September, I’ll never forget what the team meant to me and what a difference it made in my life.

I think I wrote this letter partially to pitch the idea of you coming for a visit, but mostly it was for me to be able to express how I was feeling about the team leaving to someone who might understand. Thanks for reading, and thanks for writing this blog. You do a great job with it, and I appreciate every post.

Gillian Richard

While I have visited Huntsville in the past, Gillian’s email really got me thinking about how a “final” visit would be appropriate. While I am not ready to announce my road trip itineraries yet (i’s need to be dotted, t’s need to be crossed, blah blah blah), I have put together a trip that does include Huntsville on the schedule. I’ll be there in early June, God willing, chomping at the bit to visit that used record store.

But, more importantly, I hope that Gillian has inspired YOU to perhaps visit the Stars in their final season. You might get to meet Gary the Groundhog, and, who knows? You might get to go on the field after a rain out and watch the general manager use a bullwhip to pull a sword out of a guy’s mouth. That’s what happened when I stopped by in 2009.

 

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: A Three-Sided Midland Perspective

Thus far, this ongoing “Return to the Road” series has highlighted outside-of-the-ballpark trip highlights from Appleton, WI to Beloit, WI (but barely) to Midland, MI. Midland is where we are going to remain, as we begin today’s fourth and final post in the series.

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I awoke in Midland on Wednesday, June 26, and had a little bit of time to explore after checking out of the hotel. After all, that evening’s destination of Lansing (home of the Lugnuts) was just a short drive away. My partner in these explorations was writer Matt LaWell, who shadowed me during this trip as part of a book he is writing on Minor League Baseball. We began in downtown Midland, which included the periodic table-influenced “H Hotel” and its attendant eateries “Table restaurant” and the “Zinc Cafe.”

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The heart of downtown Midland, and certainly its most recognizable landmark,  is “The Tridge,”

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The Tridge, built in 1981, is what its name implies: a three-way bridge (built at the confluence of the Tittabawassee and Chippewa Rivers). A Farmer’s Market is located nearby (it wasn’t open on the day I visited), and a variety of cultural events are held in and around this area as well. It’s all very scenic and well-maintained, and we were fortunate enough to have visited on a beautiful day.

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This statue, simply title “Couple,” features its titular individuals gazing upon the Tridge in perpetuity.

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After a little bit of wandering, we came upon the similarly-titled “Family.”

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Unfortunately, a certain subset of Midland’s public statue-viewing public can’t keep their hands to themselves.

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A little bit of local history, courtesy of a rock.

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These idyllic early afternoon wandering were much enjoyed, but soon enough it was time to depart not just the Tridge but Midland itself. Farewell county courthouse, I hardly knew ye!

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From here on out, my outside-of-the-ballpark content from this week-long Midwest League excursion is exceedingly minimal. As previously mentioned, I attended that night’s Lansing Lugnuts game (and wrote about it HERE and HERE and HERE). Unfortunately, there was no time to explore Lansing proper, as I had to get up bright and early the next morning in order to appear on Grand Rapids radio. That was the first act in what turned out to be a full-to-bursting West Michigan Whitecaps experience, which was chronicled HERE and HERE and, yes, even HERE.  My time with the Whitecaps turned out to be so full-to-bursting that I didn’t get any real chance to explore Grand Rapids, either, although on the way out of the city Matt LaWell and I stopped at an eatery recommended by then-Lansing Lugnuts broadcaster Slavko Bekovic.

This eatery was called “The Winchester.” As a Brooklyn resident, I am quite familiar with this sort of establishment: a locally-sourced nouveau American bistro with self-consciously hip sensibilities.

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Here’s a picture of Matt LaWell at the bar. I only wish his well-manicured mustache was visible, as well-manicured mustaches are just the sort of thing one would expect to see at such an establishment.

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If you’ve got $40 to spend on a hamburger, then you’re everything that is wrong with America. But if this is wrong, maybe you don’t want to be right….

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All in all the Winchester had a very impressive menu, and “GF” designations are always much appreciated by celiac disease-afflicted individuals such as myself.

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An order of chicken wings and polenta fries turned out to be way more food that I bargained for.

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Sorry for the anti-climax, but this is all I’ve got and my Midwest League 2013 content well is now officially dry. (From Grand Rapids it was on to South Bend and my time visiting the Silver Hawks was chronicled HERE and HERE. Unfortunately, time constraints were such that no explorations of South Bend proper were able to take place.)

Therefore, this particular “Return to the Road” series is going to end with a picture of chicken wings and polenta fries. Isn’t that always the case?

In any case —  I’ll “Return to the Road” again before the offseason is through, in order to cover August’s trip to the West Coast. Gotta milk the material for all it’s worth!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: A Well En-Dow-ed Afternoon in Midland

It’s time for another installment of “Return to the Road,” in which I, yes, return to the road in order to further elaborate on that which was experienced during my 2013 Minor League road trips. Part one of this episodic adventure covered Appleton, WI, part two covered Beloit, WI (however fleetingly), and today will cover Midland, MI (home of the Great Lakes Loons).

bens_map_2013_ha1isac9I spend the entirety of Tuesday, June 24 in Midland, giving me plenty of time to explore the city before attending that evening’s Loons game. Often when I  find myself in this type of situation, I look up the location of a local record store and orient my wanderings from there. But this time was different, as Loons vice president of marketing Chris Mudhenk had magnanimously set up an afternoon itinerary of local cultural destinations.

I wrote a story on all of this for MiLB.com, but in the interest of redundancy and copious photo-dumping I will recap it here as well. First up was the Alden B. Dow Home and Studio.

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From the MiLB.com piece:

In many ways, Midland is synonymous with Dow Chemical, as Herbert Henry Dow established the company there in the late 19th century, and its headquarters have remained there ever since.

Herbert’s son Alden was a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright who went on to enjoy a distinguished architectural career, and for the last 50 years of his life he lived and worked in a whimsical yet geometrically precise house — constructed largely with one-foot square “Unit Blocks” recycled from the chemical company — that has since been designated a National Historic Landmark.

Pictures weren’t allowed inside the house, but these outdoor images help to illustrate the spirit of pragmatic whimsy which infused Dow’s work.

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Next up was the Midland Center of the Arts, beginning with a stop at the Alden B. Dow Museum of Science and Art. Again, from the MiLB.com piece:

The Midland Center for the Arts is a cultural consortium, a one-stop humanities shop in which “art, science, history, music, theatre, dance, films, camps, classes and professional world-class entertainers live under one roof.” The building housing these complementary entities was designed by none other than Alden B. Dow and is anchored by the four-story Alden B. Dow Museum of Science and Art.

Assistant marketing director Kristen Wuerfel gave me a brief after-hours tour of the facility, passing by attractions such as a mastodon skeleton, an interactive periodic table of the elements and a full-size farm tractor en route to a fourth floor “Icons of the Sky” exhibit featuring the Lego architecture of Adam Reed Tucker.

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Next door to the museum is the Dow Gardens. For the last time, an excerpt from my MiLB.com piece:

This 110-acre sanctuary was developed by Herbert [Dow], expanded upon by Alden, and now maintained via the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation. Amid the impeccably maintained expanses of grass, curved pathways and idyllic waterways are a variety of sculptures, many of which are installed temporarily. Dow Gardens assistant director Elizabeth Lumbert explained, “Our visitors might not like everything they see, but the art helps people see the landscape in a fresh way.”

Dow Gardens [then featured] an exhibit titled “Zimsculpt,” which highlights work done by Zimbabwean artists.

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Not a bad way to spend an afternoon; those considering visiting Midland in order to see the Loons should know that they’ll have plenty to do beforehand. My evening was spent at the Loons game, of course, and you can read about that experience HERE. But if I had to sum it all up in one photo, then that photo is this.

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There will be one more “Return to the Road” post next week. After that, other topics will be explored. I’m just not sure what, so let me know if you any suggestions or perhaps want to write a guest post. Like a produce stand sold out of everything except corn, I’m all ears.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: Odds and Ends from Southernmost Wisconsin

My previous “Return to the Road” post, dedicated to all that was seen and done during an afternoon in Appleton, was a bit of an anomaly. Appleton was the only city on this late June Midwest League road trip in which I attended two ballgames, and therefore I had more time to explore. For the remainder of the trip time was much more of an issue, so I was unfortunately unable to immerse myself in the local sights and sounds to the extent that I did in Appleton.

But do not despair, banal rhyming fans, as I’ve still got more to share! I woke up on Sunday, June 22, in Appleton, and my last order of business in that fine city was to post a Road Trip Hotel Room Review on Vine. It was then time to drive south to Beloit, so that I could attend that afternoon’s Snappers game at Pohlman Field.

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My post on the Beloit Snappers experience can be read HERE, and over on MiLB.com I wrote an article on centenarian mainstay Grace Phillips as well as one on the incredible phenomenon that was the “Whitewall Ninja” (part two of my shoulda-been-award-winning “Bullpen Trilogy,” which began with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers and later continued on the Lansing Lugnuts).

I spent Sunday evening across the state line, in South Beloit, Illinois, but traversed back into Wisconsin on Monday afternoon in order to visit Midwest League headquarters in downtown Beloit. Long-time president George Spelius works out of a nondescript office located next door to a local insurance provider, across the street from the flower shop that he runs with his wife and daughter. (I wrote a story about the Speliuses, which can be read HERE.)

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001Unfortunately my camera had some sort of conniption when I tried to photograph Spelius in his office. This here is the best I’ve got.

002After my brief visit with the Spelius clan I drove over to the Rodeway Inn, which I had been told is one of the more “colorful” team hotels in the Midwest League. While I didn’t get to stay there this time around, I paid my respects and got a meal at the attached “Road Dawg” restaurant.

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This seemed to be the sort of thing one orders while dining at such an establishment:

006Snappers baseball, as promoted via a Rodeway Inn urinal ad. (Side note: please send me any and all photos you may have of Minor League Baseball urinal ads).

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Adjacent to the Rodeway Inn was the Cornellier Superstore, the sort of roadside tourist trap that I can never resist visiting.

009 The back side of the superstore featured this amazing confluence of signage, which sums up Wisconsin pretty well.

008While I didn’t procure any cheese, I did buy this assortment of fortifications for the road.

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It was now time to make the long drive to Midland, MI, but not before one final attempt at documenting parking lot quirkiness.

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Goodbye, Beloit — I hardly knew ye!

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The rest of this pleasant summer Monday in late June was spent driving to Midland, a drive made more enjoyable once I was able to pick up the broadcast of that evening’s West Michigan Whitecaps game. Once in Midland I met up with writer Matt LaWell, who shadowed me for the rest of the trip as part of his book on the sexiest individuals working in Minor League Baseball (or at least that’s what I hope the book is about). We watched the tail-end of the Stanley Cup finals, got a late dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings (plenty of gluten-free options!) and made plans to meet early the next afternoon so that we could tour the city of Midland.

And, yes, that’s what the next post in this rollicking saga will be about. It will be a fair to Midland effort.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: Ample Opportunities in Appleton

With that recent spate of bouillabaisse posts now complete, I can now return with an unencumbered mind to my favorite of all blogging topics: the road.

I went on three Minor League Baseball road trips during the 2013 season, during which I documented the ballpark experience as thoroughly as I was able. But, of course, the beauty of a Minor League Baseball road trip is that it gives one the opportunity to explore not just the ballpark, but the city itself. And that’s simply what these “Return to the Road” posts are — an offseason opportunity for me to re-visit my 2013 road trips by highlighting that which was seen and experienced outside of the ballpark.

In November I wrote three “Return to the Road” posts, covering May’s “Southern Swing’ trip. The next series of posts will cover late June’s Midwest League meanderings, which began on June 21 in Appleton, Wis. and ended one week later in South Bend.

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On Friday, June 21, I attended a Wisconsin Timber Rattlers game and wrote about it profusely in a two-part blog post (Part One) (Part Two) as well as an indispensable MiLB.com piece that turned out to be part one of the much-lauded “Bullpen Trilogy.” I spend the entirety of Saturday, June 22, in Appleton as well, meaning that I had plenty of time to explore the city before heading back to what is now “Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium.”

As everyone knows, the best way to explore a new city is with the assistance of a trusted local. For me, that individual was Brew Crew Ball proprietor Kyle Lobner, who picked me up at the hotel bright and early (by my standards) Saturday morning. First up was a visit to Appleton’s weekly Farm Market. The Farm Market runs from June through October, and gray skies did not deter our journey.

“In Wisconsin you eat fresh while you can, because the growing season is not very long,” said Loebner, who, in addition to writing about the Brewers, serves as an alderman.

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As many of you know, a 2012 celiac disease diagnosis forced me to convert to a gluten-free diet. Well, one thing I learned during this meandering Saturday is that Appleton accommodates gluten-free diets to a degree rarely seen in Minor League markets. Gluten-free or not I’m generally not one for sweets, but when in Rome…

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Lobner was a strong proponent of the Kangaroostaurant, a “cookery on wheels.” In addition to being popular with Milwaukee-centric baseball bloggers such as  Lobner, the Kangaroostaurant is also patronized by pregnant women and young outdoorsy beardos.

008 It is also enjoyed by me! Gluten-free breakfast sandwich!

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Downtown Appleton was a pleasant place to be, and after getting breakfast Lobner and I strolled around for a bit. While I don’t have a picture of Appleton City Hall, I was informed that it is located in the top floor of an old department store building. That’s not quite as cool as Appleton’s History Museum, which is located in a castle.

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And this is not just any castle-cum-history museum, mind you. It is a non-perishable castle-cum-history museum.

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Some random items from my notebook, most likely gleaned through conversations with Lobner but possibly the result of gluten-free breakfast sandwich fever dreams:

– Appleton was the first city with hydroelectric power.

– Fox River is the largest north-flowing river in the United States.

– Former MLB reliever Jack Taschner is now a member of the Appleton police force.

And, for the records, downtown Appleton now boasts a store specializing in vinyl. It’s called Top Spins, and at the time I visited it had only been open for about a month.

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I went ahead and picked up a couple LPs, including one featuring Pete Seeger. (RIP) I was inspired to buy the Bobby Bare record after greatly enjoying his double LP of Shel Silverstein-penned compositions. (Rosalie’s Good Eats Cafe is one of my favorite songs ever.)

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Lobner and I then made a brief detour to Goodland Field, home of the Appleton Foxes from 1958-1994 (the team moved to its current home the following season and changed its name to the Timber Rattlers). Goodland Field is now run by the Appleton School District, and while it is a perfectly acceptable amateur facility I found it hard to believe that just 20 years ago it hosted Class A professional baseball. It now hosts TERROR BASEBALL.

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A few more peeks through the chain link:

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On the way back to the hotel there were a few photo opportunities to be found, because when aren’t there?

The Lawrence University campus is situated along the Fox River…

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The Appleton-area paper industry is not nearly as robust as it once was — at one point, the city’s Minor League team was called “The Papermakers” — and this particular mills have been re-purposed for residential uses.

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Rocky Bleier, a wounded Vietnam veteran who overcame his injuries and won four Super Bowl rings as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, was born in Appleton.

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Many thanks to Lobner for taking the time to show me around (as well as serving as my “Designated Eater” the night before). He dropped me back off at the hotel in the early afternoon, but I barely had time to catch my breath before my next social engagement. This one requires a little bit of backstory…

Back in the summer of 2012, in the wake of my aforementioned celiac disease diagnosis, I received an email from Timber Rattlers production assistant Peter DeRuyter. He mentioned that his sister, Nicole, had a gluten intolerance and soon enough Nicole got in touch with a wealth of information and advice for the newly gluten free. That was kind enough as it was, but she followed that up by sending me a “Welcome to Gluten Freedom” package of various GF foods. It was great!

So, anyway, now that I was in Appleton I finally had the chance to meet Nicole and Peter!

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Yes, we got lunch, but let’s back up a bit in this narrative (you’re all riveted, right?) Upon departing from the hotel, Nicole informed me of the following:

“Alright, here’s the game plan. We’re going to get dessert first. Happy Belly’s, and it’s aptly named. It’s gonna feel like I’m taking you to the back room of some place, because I am taking you to the back room of some place.”

Awesome! I’ve always loved the back rooms of some places. We returned to the by-now-kind-of-familiar streets of downtown Appleton, which were remarkably deserted considering that the Farm Market had taken place a few short hours ago.

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The front entrance of this place was adorned with a complimentary bath tub.

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And, yes, here’s the back room gluten-free friendly bake shop. See, this is why it’s always good to hang out with the locals!

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I got some cupcakes, because, again: When in Rome.

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Back outside, I happened to notice this sign. In Appleton, even the sub shops are gluten-free!

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The DeRuyters and I then took a scenic walk to a nearby restaurant because, clearly, what was needed at this juncture was more food. One of the views along the way:

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Our destination was the Stone Cellar Brewpub.

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Which, of course, had a gluten-free menu.

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This being Wisconsin and all, a cheese plate was mandatory.

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This was followed by a Reuben, which comes in at #1 on my list of “things I miss ordering at a diner in the wake of being diagnosed with celiac disease.”

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Once again, Nicole and Peter DeRuyter. Their generosity on this idyllic Saturday afternoon was much appreciated.

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Even more Appleton vantage points, taken during the walk back to downtown proper.

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I can say, without hyperbole, that this is the best-named business of all time.

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Oh, and in addition to castle-cum-history museums, Appleton now boasts the Houdini Plaza in honor of one of its most well-known native sons. But, when I was there, it was under construction.

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Finally, some wise words from former president Benjamin Harrison (a man preceded and followed in office by Grover Cleveland).

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After all that, I attended Saturday evening’s Timber Rattler game — “Salute to Outdoors Night”! — and wrote about that HERE. Thanks for everything, Appleton! No Minor League city has ever provided me with so much to write about.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Winter Meetings Journal, Day 3: Penultimate Day, Ultimate Post

Throughout last week’s Winter Meetings, I provided the perspectives of four young Job Fair attendees. We’ll hear from them again eventually, once their still in-flux employment situations are sorted out, but until then I’ll be providing an account of my own Winter Meetings experience. Today’s post is part three of a planned trilogy, making it the “Return of the Jedi” of Minor League-centric offseason blog posts. There are worse things to be, I suppose. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Technically speaking, Wednesday is not the final day of the Winter Meetings, as Thursday’s activities include the Rule 5 draft as well as a banquet dinner during which the “King of Baseball” is announced. (This year’s honoree was Portland Sea Dogs president Charlie Eshbach.) But the vast majority of Meetings attendees leave town on Thursday, making Wednesday the de facto final day to really get things done.

So, yeah, after arriving in a discombobulated state on Sunday and losing the majority of Monday to ill health, I woke up on Wednesday feeling good but also feeling anxious. It’s the final day here already? Have I accomplished anything at all? Have I ever accomplished anything at all?

The answer to such questions remains elusive, but hope springs eternal. I began the day productively by posting the first two of what would be Wednesday’s three “Job Seeker Journal” entries, proceeding from this task to an actual interaction with human beings. I had been asked to be part of a video that sports biz veteran Dan Migala (a founding partner of PCG) was helping to put together on behalf of the nationwide industry initiative that is Project Brand. The video — in which various industry pros (and, in my case, hanger-ons) were asked to provide their perspective on what makes Minor League Baseball unique — was being produced in a Swan resort conference room. When I arrived, the team behind the video were interviewing Iowa Cubs president Sam Bernabe, and I covertly took this lousy shot of my surroundings. Photo-journalism at its finest.

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After doing my interview, which will surely catapult me to the global superstardom that had long been denied me, I took the time to wander around the ground floor of the Swan Resort. While the majority of Winter Meetings activity took place on the Dolphin end, the Swan served as the location of the PBEO Job Fair and was therefore the base of operations for those who traveled to Orlando in order to (hopefully) secure baseball industry employment. Such as, you know, the four guys and gals who were featured on this blog and MiLB.com.

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You know you’re in the Swan due to clear visual signifiers such as these. (Also, they had Children of God playing on full blast at all times.)

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The Job Fair was in full effect.
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As you may have heard, the Job Fair experience can often be summed via the cliche “Hurry up and wait.” Scattered throughout this area were idle job seekers, biding time until their next interview (or simply waiting for a call to get an interview in the first place).

Hi guys!

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Okay, now get back to work.

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As mentioned in Part One of this easily neglectable series, the Swan and Dolphin are connected via this most scenic pathway.

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Upon re-entering the Dolphin, this was the scene.

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The escalators seen above lead to the main lobby, epicenter of schmooze. I was constantly orienting myself toward the lobby over the course of Tuesday and Wednesday, using it as my default Meetings meeting point, and, quite frankly, I over-extended myself in that regard this year. I’ve always made it a point to meet and speak with anyone who wants to get in touch, but throughout my time in Orlando I was constantly hit with introductory texts, emails and tweets and didn’t really know how to sensibly schedule face time in such a hectic and ever-changing environment.

In retrospect, I think a big part of the “problem” was that this was my first Meetings with a smart phone. The constant access to all forms of communication and social media can be convenient, but often results in a bombardment of information and options that hinders more than it hurts.

Regardless, I still like to meet people! In my line of work, and in most lines of work, it’s a very important thing to do. One of the people who I met with over the course of Wednesday afternoon was logo designer John Hartwell of Hartwell Studio Works. John recently wrote a guest post on this blog about his “Holiday League” logo creations, and out of appreciation for this opportunity he presented me with a North Pole Reindeer t-shirt.

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Just a few days after the Meetings one of John’s Holiday League creations went viral, thanks to Baseball-Reference posting a player page for Rudolph the Reindeer. Some much deserved publicity for a cool concept, and remember: you read about it on Ben’s Biz Blog first!

Back to the room for more Job Seeker blog postings, back to the lobby for various and sundry face-to-face meetings, rinse, repeat. Once 2 0’clock rolled by I was hit with a realization of “Dude, you gotta log some time in the Trade Show!” It was slated to close in just two hours.

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A display highlighting vendors in the “First Year Pavillion:” Virtual Concierges, Super Utility Belts, Photo Food Helmets, Baseball Bingo App, Sticky Wicky Ballpark Catcher, Pro-Stadium Models, the Ultimate Practice Bat, and more.

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One stop shopping for baseball executives.

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During my wanderings I ran into old pal Utility Man (aka Ben Youngerman), a traveling ballpark performer in the mold of Max Patkin and Myron Noodleman. (I’ve written about him before.) Here is he is, in the guise of one of his new characters.

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During the Trade Show I enjoyed a late lunch of hambuger, wings, peanuts, and human thumb.

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Actually, I was just modeling the “painter’s palette” grip of FreeHand, a new innovation in the field of concession carrying.

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I wrote about my Trade Show wanderings in THIS MiLB.com ARTICLE, and for those who are more visually inclined (ie, the entire internet), check out the photo gallery put together by my colleague Danny Wild.

Mr. Wild also took this photo. Unfortunately, this is an apt summation of the way I felt throughout this year’s Meetings. Anxious and antsy, always waiting for the other shoe to drop. What shoe, I don’t know.

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Another pic, courtesy of Mr. Wild, displaying what may soon become a familiar sight to baseball-inclined El Pasoans in 2014 and beyond.

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One thing I’ve never quite understood about the Trade Show is that many of the vendors start shutting down and packing up during its last hour. After paying x amount of dollars and traveling x amount of miles for a booth, why not man it until the bitter end? You never know who might stop by!

And speaking of the bitter end, I was getting close to it. After adjourning to the hotel room to write my aforementioned Trade Show story, I headed out to the annual Winter Meetings Gala. The gala was held poolside at the hotel, featuring food, booze, music, and plenty of human interaction. I’ve always enjoyed it, both as a signal that the Winter Meetings are winding down and because it allows for valuable socialization opportunities. The only photo I possess is this poor quality cell phone shot, which depicts folks hitting plastic golf balls into a pool.

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And that, as they say, was that. Another Winter Meetings in the books, and one that all things considered I was quite happy to put in the rear view mirror. The next morning I got on a plane, and my cares drifted away as I got lost in the easy conversational rhythms of the best morning show team in the biz.

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Kathie Lee and Hoda, I love you both.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Winter Meetings Journal, Day 2: Winter Meetings, the Musical

Throughout last week’s Winter Meetings, I provided the perspectives of four young Job Fair attendees. We’ll hear from them again before the year is out (or at least that’s the plan), but until then I’ll be providing an account of my own Winter Meetings experience. Today’s post is part two of a planned trilogy which, like Super Mario Brothers, will be consistently entertaining over the course of its three installments. 

Tuesday, December 11

The major theme of my previous post was, unfortunately, how horrible I had felt over the course of the day. Sickness had thus far completely compromised my ability to function normally, and waking up on Tuesday my only real goal was to make it through the day like a normal functioning person.

Mission accomplished! Whether it was the prescribed “B.R.A.T.” diet or merely the psychosomatic effects of having been visited by a medical professional, I woke up on Tuesday with a new lease on life. After posting the first two of that day’s “Job Seeker Journals” I made my way to the Brobdingnagian assemblage of baseball-related goods and services that is the Trade Show, which had officially kicked off the night before with an opening reception cocktail party (i.e., a chance for the industry to get a head start on drinking while making mental notes regarding which booths they plan on visiting — and, more importantly, avoiding — the next day).

The Trade Show is located an escalator ride down from the Dolphin’s main lobby, its breadth and heft signified by the fact that it comprises the resort’s Atlantic AND Pacific Halls. The show is only open to badge-wearing Winter Meetings registrees, assuring that the hoi polloi won’t overrun the place in search of free tote bags, mascot costume photo ops and Kayem sausage samples.

003Browsing the aisles would have to wait, however, as Lynn University professor Ted Curtis had asked me to speak to a group of his sports management students. Each year Lynn University maintains a booth at the Trade Show, which serves as a recruitment tool as well as a De facto lecture hall as various baseball professionals drop by in order to share their expertise (or, as in my case, distinct lack thereof).

I always enjoy spending a little time at the Lynn University booth, and appreciate Curtis’s annual invitation to drop by. After speaking to the students about Minor League Baseball in general and my job in particular, I snapped this photo (having given the instruction to please look “rapt”).

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It’s hard to tell from the above picture, but three of this blog’s “Job Seeker Journal” guest writers were in the audience: Lynn University student Alex Reiner, Meredith Perri, and Kasey Decker (fourth job seeker Ian Fontenot, ever elusive, was out seeking employment in parts unknown).

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In yesterday’s post I mentioned the annual industry idea-sharing symposium that is the Bob Freitas Business Seminar, largely in order to lament the fact that I had missed it due to illness. Except that I hadn’t, not completely. While in previous years the seminar took place on Monday only, this year the format was changed as what had traditionally been Monday afternoon small group sessions were know dispersed over the course of Tuesday and Wednesday. These 30-minute lectures took place in various nooks and crannies of the Trade Show floor, and looked a little something like this. Hit it:

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I ended up sitting in on a speech by Pensacola Blue Wahoos merchandise manager Denise Richardson, regarding the always timely topic of “Getting Your Logo Out in the Community.” One aspect of this that is unique to the Blue Wahoos is that the team has its own brand of bottled water. In Googling this, I was referred to one of my own blog posts from 2012:

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Because my subject matter is so specific and I’ve been writing about it for so long, this happens all the time: I Google something related to the world of MiLB only to find my own material as one of the primary information sources. This makes me feel like I’m caught in an infinite loop, a snake devouring its own tail, helplessly sucked into a vacuum of self-reference that will one day collapse in upon itself and render my whole existence obsolete. Perhaps this has already happened? I’m always the last to know.

After departing the Lynn University booth I decided that my best course of action would be to quickly return to the hotel room so that I could post the remainder of that day’s Job Seeker Journals. But at the Winter Meetings it is nearly impossible to get anywhere with any semblance of speed, as at every turn lurks someone waiting to say hello. This is both the blessing and the curse of having the entire industry in one place, but since my poor health precluded me from socializing on Sunday and Monday I was more than happy to log some face time with friends both old and new.

So hob knob it was, as I slowly made my way from the Trade Show floor to the my hotel room. Hello Lakewood BlueClaws director of media relations Greg Giombarresse! Enjoying your first Winter Meetings? How’s life in the post-Geoff Brown era? Hello Lake County Captains assistant general manager Neil Stein! Now that you mention it, an article on affiliate dinners would make for an interesting (and nearly totally undocumented) slice of Winter Meetings life? Hello Charleston RiverDogs general manager Dave Echols! You’re on your way to a league meeting? What goes on at those, anyway? Maybe I should write about it sometime? Hello Lansing Lugnuts announcer Jesse Goldberg-Strassler? How are your various writing projects coming along? And where’s Slavko?

And on and on it went. These conversations are invaluable, in that they create new relationships and strengthen old ones, thereby paving the way for another season of high-quality (albeit collapsing in upon itself) content. But, also, what was I going to write about in the here and now? I was a writer at the Winter Meetings, and a writer at the Winter Meetings should probably spend some time writing about the Winter Meetings. But what, when, and how? Tons of ideas were buzzing around my head, and I was already feeling anxious and unproductive having accomplished virtually nothing over the previous two days. Luckily, back in the hotel room, while I was posting some new Job Seeker Journal posts, the answer came to me in the form of an emailed question. To paraphrase:

Bull Durham is going to be made into a musical, and Ron Shelton (the film’s writer and director) and several of his collaborators are here at the Meetings in order to officially announce the project. Was I able/willing to do a story on this?

Well, sure. The musical is being funded by Buffalo Bisons owners Bob and Mindy Rich (via their Rich Entertainment Group), so it was via Bisons PR man Brad Bisbing who helped arrange the interview. After a quick hotel room crash course on Ron Shelton’s career as well as the specifics of Bull Durham (it’s been years since I’ve seen it), I strode down to the lobby in order to meet Bisbing, Shelton, producers Jack Viertel and Laura Stanczyk and composer Susan Werner. After five or so minutes of fruitless wandering in search of a place to sit down (the official pastime of the Winter Meetings), we ducked into the Dolphin’s “Australia” conference room and I proceeded to interview Shelton and his creative team for about 20 minutes. 

I thought that the interview went well, as everyone was open and honest and engaging, and after a quick round of goodbyes I went upstairs to write it. After all, it was a scoop! (Or at least as big of a scoop as a niche Minor League Baseball writer is going to get.) As I was writing, my colleague Danny Wild went to a cocktail reception announcing the musical in order to take pictures for the story and, for whatever reason, he ended up taking about 125 photos of Shelton talking to Mets manager Terry Collins. Seriously, you could make a flip book out of it.

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Boston Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo joins the convo:

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Composer Susan Werner plays a tune from the forthcoming musical as Shelton and new BFF Collins stand riveted.

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“But anyway, as I was saying…”

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And on and on it goes…While Mr. Wild was doing yeoman’s work by making sure that Collins and Shelton’s pow-wow would be the most photographically well-documented conversation of all time, I was in the hotel room cranking out my piece. You don’t want to see how the sausage is made, but HERE IT IS, the proverbial sausage. (Click on the “link” to read it).

Another story was in the books, and I have some leftover conversational fragments that I’m looking forward to sharing on this blog in the near future as well! (Teaser: Mr. Shelton doesn’t think the world of Minor League Baseball holds much interest anymore). With the story filed, I decided to test my luck and eat my first full meal in days via a company dinner at a Walt Disney-owned restaurant by the name of Portabello. Unfortunately this establishment was in the midst of “downtown” Disney, a tacky and rather garish conglomerate of family-friendly shops and activities (as in, an earnest young man in his 20’s, on an outdoor stage, leading a gaggle of children in “The Chicken Dance.” What is this? Minor League Baseball?).

I wanted to get out of “downtown” Disney as soon as I arrived, and grotesqueries such as this only strengthened by desire to leave. A dress made out of dolls wearing dresses? This is just creepy, evening wear for soul capturers, and I don’t blame that doll in the bottom middle for trying to escape from the hellish reality she has found herself trapped within.

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A quick cab ride courtesy of the Mears transportation conglomerate soon had me back at the Dolphin, where I partook in the nightly hotel lobby socializing ritual that I had missed out on the night before. As usual, there were too many people to talk to and too little time.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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