Results tagged ‘ On the Road ’

On the Road: Firsts among Lasts in Hillsboro

When Part One of this Hillsboro dispatch concluded I was standing in the tunnel adjacent to the visitor’s dugout, ready and waiting to participate in a between-inning contest. The kneepads were affixed and the blindfold was on, but then something got in the way of my imminent humiliation. Let’s go to the Vine.

This turned into a torrential downpour in a hurry, and the game continued a minute or two longer than it really should have. This continuation of play in the midst of severe precipitation was much to the consternation of the Dust Devils dugout.

In the above Vine it’s not profanity that you hear, but an angry cry of “That’s Bolshevik!” I constantly heard this word in Minor League dugouts this season, and still don’t quite understand the connotation, but shortly after hearing this word yelled in their direction the umpires did indeed agree to the cessation of play. My moment of on-field “glory” would have to wait.

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Cue the interrobang because guess what?! This was THE FIRST RAIN DELAY IN HILLSBORO HOPS HISTORY. I’ve been to a lot of ballparks in my life, and seen a lot of things, but never have I witnessed a meteorological event as significant as this. I and the 3,528 fans in attendance on this sodden August Oregon evening will always be able to say, the pride evident in our respective voices, that “I was there.” (To the Hops front office: when you do the inevitable “First Franchise Rain Delay” commemorative t-shirt giveaway next season, please make sure to send one my way.)

The good news was that the turf at Hillsboro Ballpark was of the artificial variety, and therefore not much was needed in the way of tarp application: all that needed coverage was the pitcher’s mound and batter’s box.  The bad news was that the grounds crew, for several agonizing minutes, was nowhere to be found (I think they were doing work on one of the other fields in the athletic complex of which Hillsboro Ballpark is a part?)

But, eventually, the grounds crew showed up and everything was put in order.

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“Dude, first rain delay in franchise history and we were the ones who got to call it!” is what I’m pretty sure this umpire was saying to his cohort. (I’m sure there are some people who will call bolshevik on that quote, but I stand by it.)

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The grounds crew might not have been totally prepared for the rain delay, but Barley was.

The rains were fast, furious, and fleeting (alliterative life metaphor). After approximately half an hour the adorable mini-tarps were taken off the field, and the grounds crew started tamping things back into shape. As they did, a marriage proposal played out on the videoboard.

“There may have been a brief cessation in play, but there will never be a cessation of our love,” said the man.

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I wish that couple all the best, but, for me, the promise of lifelong love took a backseat to the threat of imminent humiliation. (I’m used to it). “Here we are now, entertain us,” demanded this throng of Pacific Northwesterners….

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and the Hops obliged by sending me out on to the field blindfolded, spinning me around in circles, and then leaving me to the mercy of the crowd’s ostensibly accurate “warmer/colder” exhortations as a means to locate some sort of prize box.

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Colder.

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Colder:

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Colder.

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Colder.

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Coldest.

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Whatever. I didn’t want whatever was in that box anyway. It probably, like, had gluten in it or something.

Not that I had time to be a sore loser anyway, as immediately after my final on-field failure of the season I scurried up to the second level and did a half-inning on the radio with Hops announcer Rich Burk.

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Burk is a veteran broadcaster with far more credentials than your average Class A Short Season shot-caller, as, among other things, he served as the Portland Beavers’ play-by-play man until their departure for Tucson following the 2010 campaign. During the half-inning I was on the air we talked about my travels  in general and, more specifically, the fact that I suffer from the ceremonial first pitch version of Steve Blass disease. (I felt dizzy throughout, still feeling the effects of my on-field humiliation.)

And that was that. I took a broadcast booth selfie and then commenced to wander about by myself for a bit.

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The solo wandering didn’t start off so well, as I ducked in to an upper level bathroom and then left quickly under duress upon seeing a Playtex dispenser. I thought I had somehow ended up in a women’s room, but it turned out that it was a unisex bathroom and, therefore, my gender confusion was unwarranted. Whew! The last thing I need is people starting rumors that they saw Ben’s Biz walking into the ladies room with a camera and a notebook.

Anyway, here’s a picture that I took just outside the unisex bathroom. It depicts right-hander Blake Perry (or at least I think that’s Blake Perry), who never actually pitched for the Hops. But he did pitch for Hops’ predecessor the Yakima Bears in 2011 and 2012, meaning that his Arizona Diamondbacks Class A Short Season credentials remain impeccable.

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 Wherefore art thou, press box denizens? In line for the unisex bathroom?

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The seating bowl below these invisible media members was far more lively.

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As I observed last season in Eugene and (especially) Vancouver, the Northwest League is home to some grade-A baseball fans (although, in Vancouver, that would be “grade-eh”).

“Having Too Much Fun May Distract From the Actual Game” went one of the lighthearted stadium signs…

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but I found this one to be more apropos.

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I’m going to let the Vine do the talking.

But, as with everything else in life, there are two sides to every story. (Also, I have no idea what that kid is wearing on his head.)

After following the fair weather fans outside so that I could harangue them further, I got distracted by the public art project that was detailed in Part One of this Hillsboro blog series.  It looked more beautiful at night, because everything does.

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I made it back inside in time for “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” which is sung nightly by Burk while leaning out of the press box (he used to do the same while broadcasting at Portland’s PGE Park).

The stretch is followed by the House of Pain parody “Hop Around,” in which Barley and game day employees lead the crowd in, yes, hopping around. My attempt to document said hopping on this particular evening was a failure.

But the Hops players didn’t join me on board the failure train, however, as they scored three runs in the seventh to secure a 6-3 victory over (didn’t) Tri (hard enough) City. A word to the wise: once a Hops game ends, wait a few minutes before trying to exit the stadium. Otherwise you’ll end up in an agonizingly slow line of disproportionately white-haired people.

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Now, under normal circumstances, the post would end here. But these are not normal circumstances, as I attended the following afternoon’s game as well. This was my final day at the ballpark, not just of this road trip but of 2013 overall, and it turned out to be a beautiful afternoon.

On the way into Hillsboro Ballpark I put together a whimsical signage Vine:

Upon arriving I conducted a couple of interviews that would eventually form the basis of THIS STORY about the farcical events that surrounded the first home run in Hillsboro Hops history. One of those interviews brought me down to the home dugout.

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003Seeing that Hillsboro logo reminds me that, somehow, I never visited the team store during my two days at Hillsboro Ballpark. The Hops were the number-one selling team on the Minor League Baseball merch charts at the time that I visited, thanks to an enthusiastic reception from the local fan base combined with interest nationwide from baseball fans/beer aficionados who were simply enamored with the team name and logo.

The players mingled on the field while the fans mingled out front.

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I toe the line when it comes to the gluten-free diet that celiac disease has imposed upon me.

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But, this being the Hops and all, I still felt compelled to document their signature Long Ball Ale to an extent greater than I had in the previous post. Therefore, I issued the following tweet:

Soon enough, a season ticket holder named Dani Mullen approached me and said “So, anyone get that beer yet?” The answer was no, of course, so the beer became hers.

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Dani is originally from Fort Wayne (hence the TinCaps t-shirt), but moved to Oregon after 13 years of living in Arizona. She and her husband Allan were fans of Rich Burk when he called games for the Beavers, and she told me that having him here in Hillsboro was “the icing on the cake” when it comes to being a Hops fan. In fact, it was through her listening to my interview with Burk the night before that she knew who I was in the first place.

But anyway, Dani said that the Long Ball Ale was “good, a little bitter, and very hearty. It gets better as you drink it.”

Thanks, Dani, for being the first “designated drinker” in Ben’s Biz Blog history. (Perhaps I can recruit individuals for this position during my 2014 road trips?)

Allan, Dani, and Long Ball Ale:

012My pace was leisurely during this, my last “On the Road” ballgame of the 2013 season. I got some garlic fries and ate ‘em on the outfield berm.

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I made it back to the area behind home plate in time for “Hop Around.”

And then spent an inning watching the game with Bob Webster, a recently retired Intel employee who is now writing a book on the history of the Northwest League.

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Bob, a member of the SABR Bio Committee, encourages anyone with information or suggestions pertaining to NWL history to contact him at bob234@comcast.net

Meanwhile, the professionals on the field soon gave way to amateurs.

021022 Which gave way to my belated realization that I have a couple of ballpark panorama photos to share.

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And that, finally, is all I have to share from the road. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for an offseason of plentiful content (including the 1000th post in Ben’s Biz Blog history).

Until then, goodbye from Hillsboro.

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benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: On the Cusp of a Historical First in Hillsboro

My last stop on this West Coast road trip, and in 2013 overall, was Hillsboro, Oregon. This marked the first time that I visited Oregon since way back in, well, 2012, when I stopped by Eugene and Salem-Keizer on my way into Washington and, eventually, the foreign soil of Vancouver, Canada. But I had a reason to return to this area so quickly, as Hillsboro is home to 2013′s lone new team: the Hops of the Northwest League. The Hops are the franchise formerly known as the Yakima Bears, whom I also visited last season, and while the primary owners and much of the front office staff remained intact these two baseball environments have virtually nothing else in common. Go ahead and contrast this post with the Yakima dispatch linked to above and you’ll see what I mean.

The Hops fill the Portland-area professional baseball void that has existed ever since the Pacific Coast League Portland Beavers departed for Tucson following the 2010 season, and as such the fledgling franchise can draw on a deeply-engaged and (perhaps more important when it comes to long-term success) deep-pocketed fan base. Intel and Nike both have headquarters in Hillsboro, and visible from the stadium are construction cranes working on Intel’s multi-billion dollar research facility. It boggles the mind, really — just a few days ago I had been in Stockton, a city that had recently declared bankruptcy, and now here I was in an environment surrounded by construction projects with 10-digit price tags.

Hillsboro Ballpark is a city-owned facility built within a pre-existing parks and rec complex, and as such the acreage is vast and the parking ample. When I pulled into the lot, the parking attendant would not take my “I’m a member of the media” claim at face value, and waited until I was able to extract a pass from the detritus on the passenger seat floor.

“Okay, that’s good,” she told me. “I had to check, because you could’ve just been a blogger.”

Thanking her for her diligence, I pulled into my space and took in the view.

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My first impression was that the structure seen in the above photo was Hillsboro Ballpark. But that impression, like most of the primary variety, was erroneous. That structure was a football field, with Hillsboro Ballpark situated just behind it.

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The above two facilities have a symbiotic relationship with one another. The Hops’ primary concession stands — which we shall see in a bit — are located in the football stadium, facing outward toward Hillsboro Ballpark’s third base side concourse.

Getting to the stadium from the parking lot was a bit of a hike, but whimsical signage insured that my spirits remained high throughout the journey.

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 My walking Cramps dissipated after seeing the ballpark’s Lux Exterior.

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Said exterior included this interactive public art project, entitled Barometer.

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Per sculptor Devin Laurence Field, Barometer “takes the overall triangular form of the baseball diamond held aloft by columns and illuminated with color changing, sound activated LED lights….Around the sculpture are various ‘instruments’ people can play, a giant horn, a rattle roller, drum sets and chimes that together form a symphony of sounds. When no one is at the park there is no colored light, when there is noise it lights up — the louder the noise, the brighter the light. The art is a veritable Barometer of excitement for the ballpark.”

Soon after arriving I embarked upon a ballpark tour with Hops general manager K.L. Wombacher, who re-located with the team from Yakima. K.L., he’s a serious guy.

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On the concourse, K.L. and I soon ran into team owners Laura and Mike McMurray. To say that they are enthusiastic about their new locale would be an understatement. Mike told me that after 13 years in Yakima, Hillsboro seemed like “heaven.”

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As mentioned before, Hillsboro marks the return of professional baseball to the Portland area after a two-year hiatus. The below display preserves some of the “final” items in Portland Beavers’ history, thus serving as a bridge to the present.

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K.L. told me that while suites were part of the original stadium design, the club instead opted for open air party decks. The Hops’ status as a short-season team played a major role in that decision.

“The weather here from mid-June through September is just awesome, some of the best in the country,” said K.L. “During this time of year, people don’t want to be enclosed.”

The view from the top, game day employees in day-glo.

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At this juncture game time was imminent, with Dust Devils and Hops alike gathering in anticipation.

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And, hey, look! It’s Barley, the Hops’ mascot. Due to the prohibitions of my gluten-free lifestyle, I had to keep my distance.

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Barley is a hop, and the Hops are called the Hops because of Hillsboro’s proximity to some of Oregon’s most bounteous hop farms. (Worth noting, and a bit ironic, is the fact that the Hops’ former home of Yakima was even more plentiful in the hop department.)

It was “Breast Cancer Awareness Night” at the ballpark, and this led to a cool moment. K.L.’s mom, Bev, is a 13-year breast cancer survivor and earlier that day she had been told that she had been selected for first pitch duties. She got a big round of applause, led by her son, prior to delivering the pitch and it was a heartwarming and truly spontaneous moment.

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Heartwarming then gave way to plain ol’ adorable, as this young fan swept home plate.

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Manager-Umpire relationships are volatile and subject to change at any moment, but at the exact moment in time in which this picture was taken everything was copacetic.

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The Hops’ players were more than ready to take the field, save for the guy on the far left who was more into perfecting his Eminem impersonation.

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“Come to gluten,” says Barley.

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With an ominous cloud looming overhead, Barney and his less-glutenous ballplaying friends stood at attention as we honored our country through the singing of our National Anthem. (The flags were at half mast that day, in honor of a firefighter killed in action in Albany, Oregon.)

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The completion of the “Star-Spangled Banner” means that it’s time to play ball. So, with Class A Short-Season Northwest League action as the backdrop, I took a lap of the facility.

One of the first areas that I encountered was Hot Dog Nation,  a presumably sovereign entity with non-existent border security. At said nation a standard-issue hot dog costs $3.75, and specialties include the Foot-Long, Hoppin’ Jalapeno, Philly Dog, and Chicago Dog.

074The Hops name, when it was first announced, drew acclaim from beer drinkers nationwide. Ale aficionados and IPA artisans alike allowed themselves to imagine Hillsboro Ballpark as some sort of beer drinking mecca, with baseball as the centerpiece of a thriving micro-brew scene. For now, however, the beer selection is modest as just three are on tap.

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Two of these three beers are provided by the local BridgePort brewing company: Hop Czar and Long Ball Ale. That latter brew, a light and citrus-y summer ale, was sold exclusively at Hillsboro Ballpark and, as such, is the official team beer. The gentleman working the “Brew Pen” taps was, not surprisingly, biased toward BridgePort products. I repeatedly heard him explain the merits of both the Hop Czar and Long Ball Ale in detail, and then follow up those descriptions with a tossed-off “Or, of course, you could have the watered-down American lager.” (Also known as Coors Light.)

I’ll have more on Long Ball Ale in Part Two of this post (oh, yes, there is always a Part Two), but this lap around the perimeter of the ballpark wasn’t going to walk itself. Time to keep on movin’ on.

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A cool feature of Hillsboro Ballpark is that, despite limited room to work with in certain areas, the Hops went out of their way to make the concourse of the 360-degree variety.  The right and center field berm area is very narrow, before opening up into a more traditionally vast expanse in left field.

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The view toward the field: 081And the view behind the berm:

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I admired this father and son duo, who were sticking it to the man by watching the game for free from beyond the fence.

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The bullpen denizens don’t pay to watch the game either.

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As mentioned, more traditional bermage can be found in left field.

087 - Copy And looping around to the third base side there was, of course, more food to be found. As mentioned previously, this concession stand is actually located in the adjacent football stadium.

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Mannequin or real person?

At this point I was introduced to Tony Hendryx and Tim Watters. The former, on the left, is regional vice president of Ovations food services. The latter, on the right, is an Ovations operation manager. (Or would that be a “Hoperations Manager”?)

095If there’s one thing I learned this season while on the road, it’s that food and beverage guys are way more enthusiastic about their jobs than the average person is about his or hers. These guys were no exception, and Hendryx, an Oregon native, spoke excitedly about how the Hops’ mid-June through September season matches Oregon’s growing season and, therefore, the team makes sure to use fresh, local ingredients whenever possible. (“If we can keep it out of the freezer, we do,” said Hendryx.”)

At this point in the blog post you have probably become accustomed to me introducing the “designated eater.” (You know, the individual recruited to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). But, in this case, “designated eating” was largely eschewed in favor of highlighting two of the Hops’ gluten-free options.

091 Oh, hey, hi, that’s me with a salmon burger (on a gluten-free bun, natch) and a Cobb salad.

The salmon burger was made of locally caught (never frozen) fish glazed with a brown sugar and garlic powder marinade then grilled and served with fried onions. I wish I had taken a close-up pic of just the salmon, as it was sweet and succulent and one of the best items I had at a ballpark this season. But you get the idea.

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And here’s the Cobb salad, with Hendryx explaining that the chicken was from Carlton,Oregon, the hazelnuts grown in the Willamette Valley, the cranberries grown in local bogs and the blue cheese from Rogue River creamery of Central Point, Oregon.

Not that there is all that much competition, but I am going to declare this the best salad currently served at a Minor League ballpark. If you disagree, then get in touch and I will be happy to give your dissent a public airing.

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I wasn’t totally alone in my culinary consumption, however. Meet Hops marketing intern Erik Knutsen, who was recruited to serve as a designated eater should the need arise for some designated eating. Knutsen was the most unenthused and underused designated eater in Ben’s Biz history; here he is with a Long Ball Ale that he was wary about drinking given that he was on the job.

092 Knutsen was a mite bit more enthusiastic about this Zenner’s-brand hot dog, topped with onions and nacho cheese.

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“It tastes really good,” said Erik in a deadpan monotone. “Party.”

This party was cut short, however, as I had been recruited to participate in a between-inning contest. The beer, it was abandoned.

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Erik and I headed down to the visitor’s dugout area, where I was equipped with a helmet, blindfold, and kneepads. I don’t know the exact name of this game I was going to play, but it bore a strong similarity to that which I made a fool of myself doing in Wisconsin. Basically, an object is placed on the field and I, through the crowd’s “hot” or “cold” exhortations, had to find it.

The sting of Wisconsin-based on-field failure was still fresh in my mind, and I was ready for some Oregon-style redemption.

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Except, no. My shot at redemption was postponed due to unforeseen circumstances.

What unforeseen circumstances, you might ask? Well, here’s my answer to that question:

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All will be revealed in Part Two of this Hillsboro saga, which, sadly, will be 2013′s final “On the Road” post. We’ll always have the memories.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Two Sides to Every Story in Reno

My “On the Road” posts are perhaps best described as impressionistic fever dreams, in which I try to piece the fragmented memories of my ballpark evenings into something resembling an objective reality. In doing so I strive to reach a fertile middle ground in which a small “t” truth can blossom into infallibility, but sometimes the discrepancy between my account of an evening and that of the team in question becomes too great to ignore. This is certainly what has occurred when it comes to my recent visit with the Reno Aces, as I documented a rather lackluster night at the ballyard that ended prematurely due to a rainout.

When the Aces read this post, they were incredulous. “It goes without saying that Ben is the greatest baseball writer of all time, but not even the greats are unimpeachable,” went the presumed front office sentiment. “And, like Loutallica or Chinese Democracy, Ben’s post on this alleged “Reno Rainout” represents greatness at its most deeply flawed.”

The Aces, led by marketing director Brett McGinness, took it upon themselves to compose a thorough corrective to my Reno rainout missive, which I will now reprint in full. In doing so I am not admitting to any errors in my previous account; rather, I am simply acknowledging that truth is a malleable construction, perhaps nothing more than a coping mechanism designed to create some semblance of order within an existence that requires daily navigation through the chaos of infinite conflicting realities.

RENO’S RESPONSE

We’re not sure what your recent column was, about the rainout at Aces Ballpark. Here’s how we remember it (with photographic proof):

It was a perfect August evening at Aces Ballpark. 75 at first pitch, not a drop of rain for miles.

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The Aces and Redbirds took the field right on schedule, and you got the full Aceball experience. You seemed a bit road-weary.

The second-inning trike race against Archie went well. You pulled out to a huge lead, but seemed pretty blasé about the victory.

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Next up: Dancing Grounds Crew. Surely this would shake you out of your stupor.

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Nope.

Guest-starring as Roof-Man, perhaps?

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No dice.

Same deal when you were in the wiener dog race (although you came in third, so it’s understandable why you might have been bummed out).

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That was when we accidentally offered you a Triple Play Sandwich, chock-full of glutens. Cryptically, you told us, “Don’t offer me glutens. You wouldn’t like me on glutens.”

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You took one bite of that sandwich and went a little nuts.

You proposed to some woman on the field. We’re still not sure if you knew who it was, or if you had met her before, or what.

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We tried to tell you that “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” wasn’t a duet, but we couldn’t talk you down from the wall.

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We didn’t really know what to do, so we had to call the cops.

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Long story short, Nevada requires no residency for marriage certificates, so the marriage is binding. You should really head back here when you get a chance, your bride keeps stopping by the ballpark and asking about you, and we’re running out of excuses.

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I’ve got to admit, the above account does explain a lot. Namely, why a woman with a 775 area code who is listed in my phone as “Betrothed” keeps calling me. I keep telling this lady that she’s got the wrong number, and that I remain Minor League Baseball’s most desirable bachelor, but who knows? Perhaps it’s time to own up to my gluten-fueled indiscretions and settle down in Reno.

Or perhaps not. I’ll spend the remainder of the week pondering my options, and in the meantime stay tuned for dispatches from one more “On the Road” locale: Hillsboro, home of the Hops. Hopefully my account will jibe with the team’s, but who really does know?

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Rain Delays and Triple Plays in Reno

I’ve traveled quite a bit over the past four seasons, and in that time I’ve kept meteorological misfortune to a minimum. The only time whilst “On the Road” in which I experienced a rainout was in 2010, when a vicious Chattanooga thunderstorm put a halt to any and all Southern League activities that had been scheduled for that evening at AT&T Field (or, as I like to call it, “Orphan Initialism Field”)

When I arrived at Reno Aces Ballpark on a recent Thursday it was decidedly overcast, hardly the sort of day that sets hearts to fluttering.

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“But, still,” I thought to myself,” “This is Reno. I don’t think that there are ever rainouts here. It’s, like, near a desert or something.”

This was an exact thought-quote.

Upon entering the ballpark (which, as you may be able to infer from the above pictures, is located in downtown proper) I met with Aces marketing director Brett McGinness and we embarked on a tour of the facility. For some reason, the very first picture that I took is of a deserted (for the time being) cornhole bago area.

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“This started as a bocce court, but bocce didn’t fit the Reno aesthetic,” Brett told me. “Bago has been much more popular.”

Also representative of the Reno aesthetic are huge meat smokers in the shape of a train.

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Aces Ballpark is the centerpiece of Reno’s entertainment-centric “Freight District” and the city is a major trucking and transit hub in general, so the train motif makes sense. There are train tracks located directly beyond left field, for goodness sake.

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The scene is different in right field, as there one finds the Truckee River.

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To the right of right field, out in the distance, on the horizon, there are mountains.

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But as for the more immediate surroundings? Take a look:

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Refreshment options abounded, actually.

Outside there were food trucks, or, as nobody calls them: vehicular comestible purveyors.

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Upstairs, this was the scene at “Bugsy’s.

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“Bugsy’s” is so named because “Bugsy” is the nickname of Aces manager Brett Butler. Butler got that name during his playing days, when his snazzy sartorial sense inspired teammate Mike Krukow to remark that he dressed like mobster Bugsy Siegel, and the name stuck.

Keep in mind that I was walking around the ballpark with a guy named Brett [McGinness], who told me that “Growing up Brett Butler was my favorite player, because there were no other Bretts playing baseball. Now when I’m walking around the ballpark Brett [Butler] will see me and say ‘How’s it going, Brett’ and I’m like ‘Wow, dream come true!’ Brett Butler knows my name!”

Such interaction is par for the Brett Butler course, actually, as prior to the season he requests short bios of the Aces front office so that he can competently make small talk with them when the need arises. That’s just the kind of guy Brett Butler is!

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There are plenty of food and drink options at Aces Ballpark — especially if you DON’T want to watch the game. There’s an entire attached entertainment district that is collectively referred to as “The Freight House.”

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Bago can be found up here as well,  beneath the upper torso of a glowering neon baseball player.

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It is rumored, but not confirmed, that this player was modeled after veteran infielder Cody Ransom.

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Meanwhile, game time was almost upon us. In the following Vine, the PA announcer’s exhortation to “Play Ball” occurs about half a second after a jagged bolt of lighting cuts across the sky. Baseball and lightning are, generally speaking, incompatible.

But the game had begun and there was nothing to do but keep on keeping on, despite the less-than-ideal conditions. The evening’s originally scheduled “designated eater” (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark delicacies that my gluten-free diet prohibits) was a local DJ/Aces superfan/Reno man-about-town named Chris Payne.

Payne was recently voted Reno’s “best public figure to fantasize about,” so have at it:

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Unfortunately, Payne’s own recent set of dietary restrictions — he had given up red meat– rendered him unable to adequately perform designated eating duties.  All I could do was admire his tattoos and footwear and move on.

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“I take what I do as a fan to the next level,” said Chris. “I’m always thinking eight steps ahead of everyone else.”

Desperate times call for desperate measures, so Into the designated eating void stepped Brett McGinness himself. And first up for Brett was the $15 Triple Play sandwich, which consists of 18-hour smoked brisket and pork shoulder, BBQ-glazed meatballs, cole slaw, three pieces of Texas toast, pickles, and peperoncinis. After you order it, you are given the following sign so that an Aces food service worker can come out and hand deliver it.

(In the below photo, senior sous chef Brad Radack is holding the sign. We’ll meet Brad in just a bit.)

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What a beauty this thing is!

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Have at it, Brett!

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As Brett methodically consumed the above item with grace and aplomb, the situation on the field went from bad to worse.

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Say what you will about radar, it is incapable of untruths. And, sure enough, about 10 minutes after the first pitch, the skies opened up. It was a veritable deluge, and Brett abandoned the Triple Play sandwich in favor of tarp duty.

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The concourse, in which elbow room had once been so plentiful, quickly became a mob scene.

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Two brave — or would that be insane? — souls stuck it out in the stands.

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The Aces’ tarp work was exemplary, and after the situation was under control Brett returned. (His sandwich, however, did not. I have no idea where that thing went.)

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The Aces had prepared a rather ambitious schedule for me, involving many aspects of the game day experience, but the rains rendered this schedule moot. (At the time the rain hit I was preparing to take part in a trike race, because, as Brett said, “We figured we’d put you on a metal object in a thunderstorm.”)

Okay, fine. Plan B: watched Brett eat more food. What a life. This time we headed up to Duffy’s, a member in good standing of the Freight House conglomerate:

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Brett, still soaking wet, soon had before him Duffy’s version of a reuben: corned beef, french fries and dressing on rye, cooked in a woodstone pizza oven.

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Chef Radack reported that this is a new item, and it has been popular as a late night selection (Duffy’s opens 90 minutes before the game and then stays open until midnight or so). Brett, he enjoyed it.

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It’s not on the menu, unfortunately, but Chef Radack and his crew were kind enough to prepare me some gluten-free pizza. On the left is pepperoni, on the right is the veggie-centric “Farmer’s Market” (onions, zucchini, peppers, pomodoro sauce).

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Radack and crew, awaiting my reaction:

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Thumbs-up, guys! (Seriously, please don’t kill me.)

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It really was good — I’m not sure what type of flour was used, but it resulted in a crisp thin crust and that’s all I ever ask for. (Well, that and fresh ingredients. And impeccable presentation. And affordability. And a complete and total obsequiousness to my every passing whim.)

Meanwhile, outdoors, the rains had subsided. That was the good news. The bad news was that so much rain had fallen in so little time that the field remained sodden and certainly would remain sodden for some time.

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Well, okay, then. In order to pass the time I resumed my new favorite activity: watching Brett McGinness eat. Here’s a Caesar wrap on a spinach tortilla, Brett. Do with it what you will.

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“I’m like the Homer Simpson of food critics,” said Brett, commenting on his perhaps-less-than-discerning taste. “This is awesome, too. I love it!”

Well, then, you may as well keep right on eating. Here’s a Frito Pie Dog, in which a 10-inch hot dog is topped with chili, cheese, and Fritos.

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Previous Homer Simpson-esque proclamations notwithstanding, Brett was starting to get a little burned out.

“This, it tasted like a Frito Pie Dog,” he said. “Whatever you imagine it tastes like, that’s what it tastes like.”

This would prove to be Brett’s first and final tautological culinary observation of the evening, as word soon came over the PA that there would no more Pacific Coast League baseball on this rain-besmirched Reno evening.

My sentiments exactly, videoboard. My sentiments exactly.

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2013 marks the Aces’ fifth season, and this was just their third-ever rainout. What a disappointment for such an anomaly to occur on the lone night that I was in Reno, as there is so much of the Aces experience left to be seen!

Perhaps, through a combination of technological chicanery and good old fashioned elbow grease, I’ll be able to find a way to show you some of these things. Who really does know?

Stay tuned…

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Concluding a Banner Island Day in Stockton

Part One of this rambling Stockton blog saga began hours before game time amid Highway 4 farmland, and then proceeded all the way until said game began at Banner Island Ballpark.

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Let’s zoom in for a closer look.

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In the above photo, beyond the small squadron of retired jerseys, stands Ports president Pat Filippone. Filippone has reached the MiLB mountaintop by having a concession stand item named after him (the Filippone Salad, as you may recall from the last post), and I am holding out hope that, one day, a team may see fit to offer a gluten-free “Ben’s Biz Burger.”

I momentarily forced such egocentric concerns out of my mind, in favor of the task at hand: wandering. After about 25 seconds of such, I found myself in the company of this triumvirate of gentlemen.

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These guys were on the concourse extolling the virtues of Tapgift, a Redwood City-based start-up whose product allows its users to send and receive gifts in real time. The Ports are the first Minor League team to have partnered with Tapgift, meaning that users can buy concession items for people at the game even if they themselves are not there.

In the above photo, on the far right, stands Mack Cage. In addition to having the toughest-sounding name of anyone I have ever met, Cage co-founded the company. He told me that the idea for Tapgift came about when he and his friends were at a Raiders game, wondering how they could make an absent friend “pay for the beer we’re drinking.”

“That was the genesis of it,” he continued. “I didn’t think we’d actually do it.”

But do it they did, and shortly after talking to Cage I received a Tapgift presenting me with peanuts and a soda. Pretty cool concept, I must say. There have been over 3,000 Tapgift downloads at Banner Island Ballpark this season, and San Jose State football is next on the docket.

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Next up on the docket was to meet with “designated eater” Lee McEachern, who had been recruited to consume some of the ballpark delicacies that my gluten-free diet prohibits. Lee, a long-time reader, hod volunteered for designated eating duties because it was “a chance to meet the famous blogger Benjamin Hill…and fried asparagus.”

We’ll get to that fried asparagus eventually. But first, here’s Lee, shortly after meeting famous blogger Benjamin Hill.

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And, yes, Lee is a Giants fan and his Cal League affinities lie with San Jose. The Ports are an A’s affiliate as well as inter-division rivals with San Jose, and as such Lee’s food should have been poisoned.

Joining Lee was his neighbor Jamie, a music major at Chico State who says that, due in part to Lee’s influence, she is now “a baseball freak.”

094“I’m checking scores all of the time, checking in on my favorite players,” said Jamie. “I’m a big Jeff Arnold fan. He’s my boy.”

This is Arnold’s picture on his MiLB.com player page. I think he’s now my favorite player too.

San Jose catcher Jeff Arnold

San Jose catcher Jeff Arnold

The three of us got acquainted in this shaded Banner Island Ballpark locale.

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And soon enough, food appeared. Clockwise from the top, we have a turkey burger on a wheat bun, nacho cheese pretzel burger, fruit cup, and a Caesar wedge salad.

097Those latter two options were gluten-free, and the Caesar wedge was of particular interest to me. You squeeze lemon on the wedge, dip it in the dressing and then sprinkle on Parmesan cheese — a nice mix of flavors, and yet another example of something I never would have paid attention to in my pre-gluten-free days but that is, in actuality, really quite enjoyable!

But, anyway, gluten:

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“The nacho pretzel burger is surprisingly good, the burger’s juicy and the bun is soft,” said Lee.

“It is surprisingly good,” said Jamie. “I didn’t think that the nacho cheese would work well with it, but it does.”

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The turkey burger generated a less enthusiastic response.

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“The turkey seems too salty,” said Lee. “I’m not trying to sound rude here, but it’s like it they know it’s bland and they’re trying to liven it up with too much seasoning.”

“I agree,” said Jamie. “It tasted kind of funny.”

“I have a wrap posed for you,” added Lee.

And what do you know? He did:

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“[The wrap] is really good, but it could use a little more even distribution,” said Lee. “As it is, it’s like ‘here’s the meat, and here’s the vegetables.”

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But there wasn’t time for further pontificating, because — what? — more food had arrived and this time it was of a deep-fried variety.

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What we’ve got here is not a failure to communicate but, rather, three more specialty items. From left to right: deep fried cheesecake (typically only available after the seventh inning), deep-fried asparagus, and a deep-fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

The asparagus, served with hot sauce, ranch dressing, and Parmesan, is a Ports specialty that I longed to try and maybe I did just a little bit please don’t tell the gluten-free police.

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Jamie was decidedly in the pro-asparagus camp, but Lee, ever the critic, was conflicted.

“I love asparagus, but I’m not sure it lived up to the hype. I came in with my expectations too high,” he said. “But it’s something that you have to get if you’re here, just to say that you’ve had it.”

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The deep-fried peanut butter and jelly drew a bit of a confused response, with Jamie saying it was “interesting” and “something to have once” but that “the texture of the peanut butter and jelly has changed from being fried.”

The interior:

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The cheesecake was received rapturously, however, with Lee stating that it was “a winner — warm, melty, gooey, and perfectly fried.”

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And the hits just kept on a comin’! For post-dessert, Lee and Jamie were served deep-fried pickles (or “frickles”) and buffalo popcorn chicken. Man, this looked good.

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Just keep eating, guys. It is your job.

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“Frickles is just a weird word!” said Jamie.

“God, this is filling,” said Lee. “But they do know how to fry here. It’s crispy and not too greasy.”

At this juncture a hearty thanks should be given to Nick Jackson of Ovations food services, who coordinated this never-ending stream of fine concession items. I’d also like to commend Lee, who perfectly followed my instruction to “bite into a frickle so that the frickle looks like Pac-Man and then hold this Pac-frickle in front of you while closing your eyes.”

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And then, finally, there was this. A brat. It seemed to show up out of nowhere.

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The brat afforded Lee with one final opportunity make photographic history.

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“Don’t order a brat after a pretzel burger, turkey burger, buffalo popcorn, cheesecake….” said Lee, before fading into a a brief bout of incoherence. “This is great, though. Maybe even better than the pretzel burger.”

“What?!” replied Jamie, giving me an excuse to use my favorite non-standard punctuation mark.

I let them argue that one out among themselves, as I had places to go and people to see. This concession cavalcade had taken some time to digest, and the game was now half over.

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My next order of business was to compete in an outfield “MVP Catch,” which entailed standing in right field and attempting to catch balls launched via slingshot with a net. I felt an added pressure while doing this, because I had just been informed of the various celebrities who were watching me.

And, yes, I failed in front of Mr. Steckler and Ms. Jensen (adult entertainer, model, actress, friend, believer). I should have recruited Mr. Steckler to document said failure, because this is all I’ve got.

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123But there was no time for mourning. Remember in Part One of this post when I got that wild smoking “Volcano Splash” drink? This time around I stopped by for the Filipino snack known as Lumpia.

125Lumpia is the Filipino version of a spring roll, and I could not immediately ascertain whether or not it is gluten-free. I did give it a try, however, because it looked delicious and subsequently tasted delicious.

Also, I may or may not have fallen in love.

126But another obligation was imminent. One always is.

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128During the seventh inning stretch, Splash and I threw packages of “Hello Panda” chocolate cream cookies into the crowd.

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"You've got to catch that, bro."

“You’ve got to catch that, bro.”

With the evening winding down, I made a final lap around the ballpark. On the concourse I came across this photo of Stockton native-turned-Ports pitcher-turned-perfect game hurler Dallas Braden.

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In case you forgot — Braden has Stockton’s area code tattooed on his abdomen.

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Photo by, yes, George Steckler

Night views:

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142And let it be known: Tabasco Fried Asparagus is a thing!

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In the ninth inning I joined indefatigable ballpark travelers Rex and Coco (who appeared in Part One of this post), and watched the end of the ballgame from their visiting dugout vantage point.

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Ballgame complete, Rex took a photo and Coco tallied up her scorecard. That’s how they roll.

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And, whoa, I would have forgotten, but Rex reminded me to do a #cupdate.

All you #cupdate fans out there should be grateful to Rex for his collectible cup vigilance.

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And that’s all I’ve got, folks. Time to pull up the anchor and move on. I hope that I have been able to convey that Banner Island Ballpark is a very nice place to see a ballgame. That’s all you need to know, really.

photo: Joe Price

photo: Joe Price

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: By Land and By Sea in Stockton

Usually, when writing these “On the Road” reports, I begin with my arrival at the stadium in question. But in the case of Stockton, let’s back things up a bit. This dispatch is instead going to begin with my arrival in the town of Stockton itself, as before heading to the ballpark I met with Stockton sports development director Tim Pasisz for brief tour of the city.

I wrote about this tour in an MiLB.com piece, along with some mild editorializing about how every city, no matter how embattled or beleaguered, is worth visiting. This fundamental belief has guided my approach to this job, and is one of the reasons that I like Minor League Baseball to the degree that I do: it helps contextualize American travels, giving one the impetus to visit places that they otherwise wouldn’t.  I will spare you any further editorializing however, in lieu of that which you came to see.

Pictures!

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That probably wasn’t the first image you’d expect to see in this post, but it shows the fertile Central Valley farmland that is in abundance just outside of Stockton proper. Said farmland is just a short drive away from the largest inland port in the country, whose existence has, of course, provided the inspiration for the name of the city’s Minor League Baseball team.

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Meanwhile, the combination of the city’s agricultural and nautical features has resulted in this alternate logo, in which a dockworker (Five O’Clock Dock, if you want to get specific) brandishing a piece of asparagus.

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Putting the “pee” in Ports

Hence, offerings such as the following are served at the Ports’ current home of Banner Island Ballpark.

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We’ll get to such things a bit later on (as in, the next post) but first let’s take a look at the facility that the Ports competed within before moving to their aforementioned current home of Banner Island Ballpark.

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That’s Billy Hebert Field, named after the first professional baseball player killed in action during WWII. The Ports played here from 1953-2004, but even in the absence of Minor League Baseball the stadium is still thriving. It is currently leased out to a private company that rents it out for amateur baseball and softball tournaments and the turf, it is artificial.

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Located nearby is the idyllic campus of the University of the Pacific. The campus’s Burns Tower is an impressive edifice, but as an alum of the University of Pittsburgh I have to say that it’s no Cathedral of Learning.

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Across the way is the Morris Chapel, which has a mammoth wedding wait list. Basically, if you want to get married here, book it now and then hope that you’ve got somebody when the day comes. (I booked myself for November 2015, ladies, so let me know if you want to get in on that.)

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But such a cart-before-the-horse mentality is erroneous, To get your mind right, head to Stockton’s gritty industrial southeast quadrant and visit the Wat Dharmararam Cambodian Buddhist Temple. I was only here long enough to get a superficial sense of what was going on, but, basically, moments from the life of the Cambodian Buddha are told via a series of boldly-colored larger-than-life statue vignettes.

This was one of the most unique places I’d ever visited whilst out here “on the road.”

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Consider that surreal spectacle the appetizer. The main course, as it always is on this blog, is Minor League Baseball. Banner Island Ballpark is located along the Stockton marina waterfront, adjacent to the Stockton Arena.

038The Stockton Arena is the home of the ECHL’s Stockton Thunder. Did you know that ECHL used to stand for “East Coast Hockey League” but is now an “orphan initialism” in that it stands for nothing at all? Other examples of “orphan initialism” include AT&T and ESPN and you heard it here first: if I ever have the wherewithal to start a record label, I’m naming it “Orphan Initialism.”

Marina scenes:

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Beyond Banner Island Ballpark lies this undeveloped expanse, as good a comment as any on the economic paralysis that seized Stockton in the wake of the 2007 collapse.

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The light, log and barrier are part of a conceptual art piece entitled “Do Not Pass Go.” My interpretation was that modernity (the lamppost) and traditional agrarian means of subsistence (the log) are blocked from reaching their potential by the myriad challenges currently facing the city (the barrier). But if and when they find a way around it, then the sky’s the limit.

The above paragraph is, of course, not true. But what is true is that I headed westward, working my way around the stadium’s perimeter in search of more and better vantage points.

043There were impromptu gatherings all along the waterfront, such as the following.

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Among those gathered were members of the Ports’ Silver Sluggers club, doing a little tailgating in the shadow of abandoned factories.

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Somehow, in my mania to get close to the illuminated edifice that is Banner Island Ballpark, I neglected to get a shot of the exterior. The next shot on my virtual photo roll is this, featuring fellow Minor League travelers Rex and Coco Doane.

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Rex and Coco, like myself, are based in Brooklyn. But here we were in Stockton on separate road trips, similar to that time in 2011 when we were in Winston-Salem on separate road trips.

(Shortly after this picture was taken, Rex let it be known that legendary b-movie director/producer Russ Meyer is buried in Stockton! Breast In Peace, Russ Meyer, the next time I visit Stockton I will be sure to make a pilgrimage.)

 I may have neglected Banner Island Ballpark’s exterior, but I had the interior covered.

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Shortly after arriving at the ballpark, I met up with Ports senior director of marketing Jeremy Neisser. Jeremy has been a strong supporter of the Ben’s Biz empire over the years, providing me with content related to my two all-time favorite topics: sexagenarian boxing and abdomen-based area code tattoos. So when he told me that he had something to show me, I knew that it would be in line with my sensibilities.

We proceeded through a vast expanse of cultivated greenery, and then beyond the outfield fence.

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And then, lo and behold, there it was: the Banner Island Ballpark Bullpen Memorial. Written upon this concrete wall are the names of every Ports players who has ever been a member of the bullpen, with a star indicating an eventual Major Leaguer.

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But at the moment that I was out there were no players to be found. Just detritus.

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Remember, Ports fans: dial #1947 for all your bullpen needs.

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Above the bullpen, there is a quality group seating area.

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The above location would be a good spot to enjoy some Kinder’s BBQ and,  as you can see, one of the options is a salad named after Ports president Pat Filippone. That salad sounds pretty good, and has a fairly high gluten-free probability.

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But perhaps a better location to enjoy BBQ would be this, which I’m going to go ahead and name the “Kinder Garden.”

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Awkward manchild alert!

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I emerged from this siesta in time to see a lone player make the desolate walk from the clubhouse.

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He went his way, I went mine, and within moments I came across this most unique concession stand.

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Run by a very friendly Filipino family (my notes are somehow devoid of their name), this kiosk is highlighted by the dry ice-based “Volcano Splash.” They insisted I try one, and who was I to disagree?

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This is a rare drink, in that its “fun facts” could double as a high school chemistry lecture.

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If he was back in the confines of Bakersfield’s Sam Lynn Stadium, Blaze announcer Dan Besbris probably would have been smoking and drinking right along with me. But in Stockton, he was on his best behavior.

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I was in the press box in order to do a pre-game interview with Besbris’s Stockton counterpart, Mr. Zack Bayrouty. Here he is bracing himself for the night’s action.

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In exchange for doing the interview, I received this gift.

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“e no-alez in Sacramento ounce,” reports insane man

And, don’t worry, there’s plenty where that came from. Next to five boxes of “Hello Panda,” one could find nine boxes of Stauffer’s Animal Crackers.

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“That’s the best [sponsorship] deal that Minor League Baseball has ever done,” Bayrouty told me, pointing toward the boxed bounty. “Those have provided snacks for all of the broadcasters.”

That’s all well and good, but for my part I would rather have been given an inflatable bottle of Tabasco.

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Inflatables in the press box were joined by inflatables in the background, as various Ports warmed up prior to the ballgame.

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I was on the field in order to add to my impressive string of first pitch failure. After bouncing it in Modesto, this one was high and away.

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Fleeing the scene: 082

Apprehended:

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Splash liked my first pitch, but only because Splash has never not liked anything in the history of being Splash.

084 For those keeping score at home: three nights in a row I threw out a first pitch, and three nights in a row the “Star-Spangled Banner” was sung by professor Joe Price.

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Joe did better with his anthem rendition than I did with my first pitch.

“I’d give myself an A- on that one,” he said. “There were three notes where my pitch was off.”

And with that, there was nothing left to do but “Play Ball!”

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There will soon be a Part Two of this post and, wouldn’t you know it? It’s going to pick up right where this one left off.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Nutting but a Good Time in Modesto

When I am on these Minor League road trips I have become accustomed to showing up at a ballpark and being told “Too bad you’re here on a [insert day of the week]. Our best days are [insert different day of the week].” But when I arrived at Modesto’s John Thurman Field on a recent Tuesday, Nuts GM Mike Gorrasi took this familiar sentiment into bold new territory.

“Of the 70 games in which you could have attended, this would have been my 70th choice,” he said.

This is because Modesto schools, due to some Un-American-seeming directive that may or may not have a valid justification behind it, were starting the very next day. When the first day of school looms families aren’t exactly inclined to take the kids to a Minor League Baseball game, but the sparse attendance certainly didn’t detract from my time at the ballpark. Far from it! John Thurman Field is a relatively no-frills facility, but regardless of whether or not the school year is looming ominously it’s certainly worth visiting and I hope that the remainder of this post adequately justifies this sentiment.

I didn’t have a compass on me, but I’m pretty sure that I entered the stadium while walking in a westerly direction.

008I’m a man of the people, and these inherently populist tendencies generally cause me to reject overly opulent surroundings. But the Nuts had set aside a suite for me, and who was I to disagree?

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Meanwhile, next door in the press box, onfield emcee Michael “Mike on the Mic” Smith was deep in conversation with a man who was asleep. Nothing can stop Mike on the Mic!

013 Down on the lower level, the scene was luminous.

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At this juncture I was with Nuts front office staffer Robert Moulette, who told me “I have to escort you to your chariot.” The meaning behind this cryptic statement shall soon be revealed, but until then please enjoy the photos I took while being escorted to said chariot.

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Moulette and I then passed beyond the left field fence, where the chariot was revealed.

A 1959 Corvette! The Nuts had arranged for me to ride the Corvette en route to the mound for a ceremonial first pitch.

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The Corvette came out of left field, but this first pitch delivery method didn’t come out of left field. As famously depicted in the 1973 George Lucas film American Graffiti, Modesto is a hotbed of classic car culture and every year the city hosts an “American Graffiti Car Show and Festival (George Lucas was the grand marshal at this year’s edition). The Nuts, for their part, annually host a Graffiti Night promotion and as such they have copious contacts within the classic car community.

The owner and driver of the car was a friendly, soft-spoken man by the name of Gene Carranza. He told me that cars were a post-retirement hobby of his, and that he’d restored the Corvette himself. I felt like a doofus being driven around like some sort of beauty queen or politician, but this was a great experience and certainly a very memorable way to be transported to the mound.

photo: Joe Price

photo: Joe Price

The first pitch itself was not so memorable, as I bounced it (I am now suffering from a full-on case of ceremonial first pitch Steve Blass disease).

IMG_9570On the plus side — the first pitch led to this memorable photo op: ceremonial first pitch catcher Brian Humphries (or at least I think that’s Brian Humphries), me, Al Almond, Wally the Walnut.

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The game was about to begin, and on a more representative night the ballpark would have looked like this.

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Don's Mobile Glass Party Deck (3)

But all things considered, the crowd wasn’t too sparse. Maybe 69 nights are better (they generally are), but it was a beautiful evening and time for some California League baseball.

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Some Modestans opted to spend their evening amid the company of smaller balls, however.

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With the game underway, I retreated to the private suite so that I could rendezvous with the evening’s designated eaters (you know, the individuals recruited to consume the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits).

Welcome, Joe and Bonnie Price!

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You may remember Joe from one of my Fresno dispatches, when he sang both the first and fourth stanzas of the Star Spangled Banner. He sang the National Anthem in Modesto as well and then went on to Stockton the next day and did it again. In the above photo he and Bonnie are wearing “Anthem Tour” shirts, which commemorate their season-long 2011 road trip during which Joe sang the National Anthem at over 100 ballparks.

But with singing duties complete, Joe and Bonnie were now free to sample the finest cuisine that John Thurman Field has to offer. They were joined in this endeavor by Jon Fischer, a good friend of mine dating back to middle school who showed up in Modesto simply so he could experience the ramshackle nightly improvisation that is the Ben’s Biz traveling roadshow. Jon now lives in San Francisco, where he teaches, curates art shows, blogs about his various creative endeavors, and wears t-shirts that display startling amounts of chest hair.

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Within moments, this unlikely triumvirate of gluten-tolerant suite denizens was faced with the following.

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Have at it, guys.

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As for what they were having at, the Super Pretzel is a jumbo pretzel whose negative space is filled with a variety of meat toppings (BBQ chicken, pulled pork, and tri-tip).  Chili and nacho cheese is served on the side, resulting in an “appetizer” that could serve as a meal and then some. The general consensus was that the meat toppings were well-seasoned and appropriately succulent, and the flavor of the chili surprisingly complex given that it was served in a plastic cup like some standard-issue condiment. The pretzel didn’t fare as well in the taste testing, however, as its best days (or day) seemed to be behind it.

“The pretzel is a little dried out,” said Jon.

“You’re not supposed to hear yourself eat it,” added Bonnie.

But on the whole the Super Pretzel was positively received, because on the holes were very tasty toppings. Pretzels have been a hard thing for me to give up in these post-gluten days, but there was no time to mourn. Because in addition to the Super Pretzel there was this:

As that comically inept Vine more or less conveys, this was nothing more and nothing less than bacon on a stick. Or, more specifically, bacon with brown sugar, maple syrup, and BBQ sauce. A product of Modesto’s Greens Market, it is thick, juicy, tender and altogether spectacular, one of the best concession items that I sampled all season. I’m sorry that I didn’t get a photo with just the bacon because my presence, it only detracts.

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Leaving Joe, Bonnie and John within their luxury digs, I headed back down to the concourse in order to investigate a certain piece of signage.

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This feline radio station mascot is surprisingly apprehensive and contemplative looking, not as fiercely resolute as one would expect. This KAT, like mainstream country in general, seems to suffering from an identity crisis. (The formula: pay hollow lip service to the legacy of Hank Williams while creating music that sacrifices Hank’s emotional complexity in favor of uber-condescending “pick-up truck, chewing tobacco, swimming hole and bonfire party” pop constructs that sound as if they were written by city slickers who’ve made a living on the conceit that the rubes don’t know any better. Rise up!)

And speaking of signage, here’s a concession stand pricing rundown. (The Super Pretzel was a suite-only item, I believe, while the bacon on a stick is available elsewhere in the facility.)

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My lackluster signage investigations didn’t last for long, as I soon returned to the field of play.

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And — look! — it’s Mike on the Mic!

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Mike’s name may not be original, but he is.

“I’m aware of two other Mike on the Mics [in Minor League Baseball], but I consider myself to be the most unique,” said Mike, now in his fourth season. “I’m just a man of the people, and make sure everyone’s having a good time. I have more energy and enthusiasm than anyone I know.”

Mike and the on-field promo crew had invited me to be a part of the next on-field promotion, launching t-shirts into the crowd via slingshot. This is an activity that I deeply enjoy.

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Al and Wally were on the field with me, but apparently they are a couple of omniscient nuts. The legume duo were up in the suite when I returned, engaging in one of their patented mascot dance parties.

They were also engaging in what can only be described as shenanigans.

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Being force-fed bacon on a stick by an anthropomorphic nut isn’t exactly my idea of a good time (although it is pretty close), so I headed back out for a bit more wandering and almost immediately ran into this character.

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That’s ballhawk Nick Badders, a Bay Area native who was on his way to snagging a career-best 13 baseballs on the evening. I had never written about a Minor League ballhawk before, so I rectified that situation by composing an MiLB.com piece about Nick and his hobby. You can read that HERE, and then you can go ahead and check out Nick’s account of the evening HERE (he even has a Vine video of me bouncing my ceremonial first pitch).

After interviewing Nick I was re-joined by Mike on the Mic, who was once again including me as part of the between-inning proceedings.

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I was a contestant in a videoboard trivia contest. A clip from a movie (American Graffiti, naturally) was shown on the screen, and I was then tasked with answering a question regarding what it was that I had just seen.

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The answer, I did not know, so there was nothing to do but grin and bear it as I suffered what was approximately my 125th ballpark failure of the season.

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Still single, ladies.

Back in the suite I alleviated my frustration via the consumption of pulled pork on a tapioca-based gluten-free bun.

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You can see Bonnie enjoying some St. Louis-style ribs there in the background. Jon, meanwhile, was enjoying them in the foreground.

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Simply the chest

The ribs were a popular item, and Bonnie, pointing to a stain on her shirt, lauded them for their “decorative appeal.” Joe, meanwhile, raved about the this chicken wrap.

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“One of the good things about the wrap is that it’s not simply lettuce, it’s radicchio,” he said. “It adds more body and flavor and adds a crunchy nip to it. Not a full bite, just a nip.”

Given that the Nuts are named the Nuts I was expecting the Nuts to have voluminous amounts of Nuts throughout the ballpark. This wasn’t exactly the case, although they did produce these limited edition delicacies when they hosted the 2011 California vs. Carolina League All-Star Game.

085Our ragtag group soon migrated next door so that Joe and I could lead the crowd in a poorly-documented but satisfying-in-the-moment rendition of the seventh inning stretch.

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I then stuck around for an inning on the radio with Nuts broadcaster Alex Margulies.

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By the time I returned to our palatial estate, said ragtag group was well into a dessert of “chimis” (cheesecake, raspberry and dulce de leche) and baked smores.

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My documentation skills were starting to wane at this juncture of the evening, but please let it be known that Bonnie exalted the Raspberry Chimis above the Dulce De Leche because the latter was “sweet on top of sweet” and hence too sweet.

Also let it be known that a baseball game transpired during the course of all of this nonsense. The hometown team, desirous of victory, emerged with just this.

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And with the cessation of play comes the cessation of this blog post. Take it away, Mike on the Mic!

Thanks, Mike on the Mic. Ben on the Blog is now over and out.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Around, Down, Up, Over and Out in Fresno

Part One of this Fresno saga featured slow elevators, neglected stanzas, mascot wardrobes and deceased appliances. It was a masterwork, in other words, and like all masterworks it is bound to be neglected until long after I, its creator, have shuffled off of this mortal coil and back into the flux. I accepted this fate long ago and am at peace with it, having learned to still the superfluous concerns of the raging ego within the infinite beauty of the eternal present.

And speaking of infinite beauty, on the evening in which I was in town Chukchansi Park and its immediate surroundings were positively radiant.

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I took these pictures from a perhaps not-so radiant area of the ballpark, as Grizzlies media relations coordinator Chris Kutz and I were wandering in and around Chuckchansi’s obscure backroads.

Gotta love it!

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The Grizzlies are the most prominent occupants of Chukchansi Park, but they’re not the only ones. The Fresno Fuego soccer team plays in the facility as well, and when they do they play upon an uncoiled iteration of this massive turf lollipop.

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Beyond the tarp lies glorious piles of detritus, and beyond the detritus lurks an orange-shirted team employee tasked with operating the manual right field scoreboard.

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But this team employee is not alone among the debris. He’s got these guys to keep him company.

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Perhaps the cats know what this vehicle is used for, because none of the humans I talked to had any idea.

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And finally, there is this.

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I don’t know what “C.B.T.” stands for, but I do know that visiting clubhouse manager Joe Castillo smokes ribs in this thing at the end of a homestand and then serves said ribs as the centerpiece of a post-game meal. My guess is that Mr. Castillo receives better-than-average tips for his efforts, and between him and the legendary tacos often prepared by head groundskeeper David Jacinto it is apparent that the Grizzlies are among the best post-game food providers in the PCL.

While I was loathe to leave the ramshackle charm of the Grizzlies’ storage area, Chris and I soon proceeded to the outfield area proper. Again, let it be said that it was a beautiful night in downtown Fresno.

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In the outfield one can find the “Grizzlies Garden,” created and cultivated by the 2013 graduating class of downtown Fresno’s Acel Charter School (located the proverbial “hop, skip, and a jump” away from the stadium).

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The school year was over and the garden’s best days were behind it, but the students had grown the likes of apples, corn, strawberries, lettuce, tomatoes, oxford commas, and chard. This project was under the umbrella of the Grizzlies “Farm Grown” program.

“We’re trying our best to tie in [the Central Valley's] agriculture industry and community with the Grizzlies,” said Chris. “We’re all farm grown. The players are farm grown through the Giants system and we in Fresno are farm grown because so much of our food is grown here locally.”

Chris went on to explain that the high school garden was the beginning of a much larger project, as the Grizzlies are seeking to “tie in the farming community with our urban environment.” To this end, they’ll soon be turning this expanse of outfield area dirt into a garden featuring demonstration plots of prominent local crops.

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Also tied in with the “Farm Grown” initiative is this very cool recurring promo advertised on the concourse.

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Chukchansi Park was built in 2002, just before what Chris called “the berm rage,” and as such there isn’t a lot of berm seating.

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But there is a small berm area that surrounds the pool, the centerpiece of a private outfield group area available for rental on a per-game basis. At this moment in time the life guard had no lives to guard, thus calling into question the essential premise behind her reason for being.

(And, for the record, the last Grizzlies player to have achieved a so-called “Splash Hit” was Cole Gillespie this past June.)

086 There were people out here, however. It was just that the food and beverage options were, at least at the moment, more enticing than going for a well-guarded dip.

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And when the focus finally moves from the food to the field, let it be known that the view is spectacular (not-so spectacular: the sound of the stadium PA blaring from directly above).

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When Chukchansi Park was built, one of the guiding principles behind it was that people would come in and out of the park via downtown Fresno. Hence, this prominent outfield entrance that connects the park with Fulton Mall’s pedestrian walkway.

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Unfortunately, it hasn’t quite worked out the way that its planners intended. The pedestrian walkway is well maintained and public art can be found throughout, but most of the storefronts are empty. Even though there was a game going on at the time, there was no signs of additional life outside the stadium.

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Given the state of Fulton Mall, it’s easy to interpret the above statue as a cry of frustration. A feeling of “what should’ve been” pervades, as this seems like a perfect area for the usual array of bars, restaurants, retail establishments and refurbished theaters and concert halls that play such a major role in downtown revitalization projects. I don’t know the factors that have led to Fulton Mall’s current air of desolation, but Chris told me that “parking is a big issue and one of the reasons that this hasn’t worked. The lot for season ticket holders is on the other side of the ballpark, and they have no reason to walk through here.”

As I mentioned in the last post, Chris is a Fresno native and this was his last homestand as a Grizzlies employee before moving on to a job within Kansas State’s sports information department. He loves his hometown and wants to be a part of its long-term success, but also felt that he had no choice but to leave.

“Growing up I always heard about Fresno’s ‘brain drain’ and was told to get out, to leave while you can,” he said. “I guess [succeeding in Fresno is] too tall of a mountain to climb sometimes. A lot of my heart and soul is in this stadium and a lot of my heart and soul is in this downtown. But if you can’t create an environment for someone like me to make a difference then you’re going to face this problem.”

Chris Kutz, now working at Kansas State

Fresno native  and Grizzlies media coordinator Chris Kutz, now working at Kansas State

This moment of poignant pondering complete, Chris and I wandered back into the stadium and through the concourse on the third base side. On this particular Monday there was plenty of room to move.

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It was also quiet outside of the stadium’s front entrance.

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But during busy nights, the above area is anything but empty. Here’s the scene at this year’s “Taco Truck Throwdown,” which attracted more than 14,000 fans. (And, yes, as I mentioned in the last post: this month will not end without me producing some taco-related Fresno Grizzlies content).

photo: Fresno Bee

photo: Fresno Bee

There’s also a carousel outside of the stadium.

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Beware! Terror monkey resides therein.

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But why focus on primate horror on such a beautiful evening? At this particular moment in space and time the ballpark atmosphere was idyllic.

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Given the taco-related activities that had taken place earlier in the day (again, I will be writing about this), getting some food during the game itself had become a bit of an afterthought. But the show must go on, and the Grizzlies had recruited three fans to serve as the evening’s “Designated Eaters” (you know, those who consume the ballpark delicacies that my gluten-free diet prohibits).

From left to right, meet Derek Pharis, Joel Medina, and Jace LeVasser. The three all went to high school together in Porterville, CA (located about an hour south from Fresno), and Derek and Joel are now attending Fresno State.

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Jace quickly emerged as the star of the show because, well, Jace really liked this giant hot dog.

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“It has a lot of flavor and is very delicious, but I did not feel dignified while eating it. I think a piece of me died inside,” said Jace. “I’d probably order it again.”

Derek and Joel were presented with Dinger Dogs, in which the frankfurter is butterflied open and topped with pulled pork onions, peppers and (optional) cole slaw.

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Have at it, guys.

This thing got absolutely rave reviews from Derek and Joel, although this was mostly conveyed via raised eyebrows, incredulous stares, and thumbs-up gestures.

“I thought that food here was just nachos and pizza,” said Joel.

“Me too,” said Derek. “I had no idea that [the Dinger Dog] was here, but I’m definitely glad that I found it.”

I thanked Derek, Joel, and Jace for their service and soon I was on my way. Sun or no sun, the atmosphere remained beautiful.

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At this late juncture in the ballgame the player’s headshots had morphed into an advertisement for California’s premier fast food establishment.

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And speaking of Animal Style, Chris and I soon found ourselves under attack.

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But it would have taken more than an onslaught of silly string to impede our progress. Soon enough we were within the relative safety of the Grizzlies’ front office.

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Would you believe that Parker has his own desk? It’s true, and it’s easy to tell which one is his.

Fun is guaranteed, and brainstorming encouraged.

133“This is how we think. These are the thoughts of people who can’t get their thoughts together,” said Chris. “We come in here and brainstorm, this is the room to do that.”

135Chukchansi Park is the rare two-level Minor League stadium. Here are some views from the top.

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139Back at ground level, I watched Parker get ejected from the ballgame for reasons that have since receded from memory.

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141With the concession stands about to close, it suddenly occurred to be that I had neglected to provide a stadium #cupdate. A certain subset of my readership craves such things, and on this particular trip I did not do a good job when it came to providing regular cupdates. I apologize, but one day it will please us to remember even this.

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144My last act at Chukchansi was to interview Dan and Milana Shydler, a pair of loyal and enthusiastic Grizzlies fans who bring dozens of homemade signs to each and every game. I wrote an article about them for MiLB.com, which you can and should read HERE.

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These sentiments are most apropos: Bye Bye Baby, and good night from Chukchansi Park! Before closing the book on my visit to Fresno, I’ll leave you with these words of wisdom.

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benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Providing the Grizzly Details in Fresno

This West Coast road trip began with Bakersfield and then continued on to Visalia before bringing me here, the largest and, arguably, most in-chargest city to be found in California’s Central Valley.

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Welcome to Fresno, home of the Pacific Coast League’s Grizzlies, who play in the downtown facility that is Chukchansi Park. My day in Fresno actually began hours earlier, when I and two members of the team’s front office staff visited three of the region’s most venerated taco trucks (the Grizzlies, as you may know, host an annual “Taco Truck Throwdown” promotion that has become of their most popular nights of the year).  These corn tortilla-inspired peregrinations will be detailed in full later this month, but today (and tomorrow’s) Fresno-based dispatch shall remain focused on this particular Monday evening at the ballpark.

An elevated view of Chukchansi’s environs:

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The above views can be obtained from the upper level concourse, looking out from what would be the first base side of the stadium.  But as is my general tendency, attention soon turned inward.

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The outfield entrance of Chukchansi Park opens out into a pedestrian walkway that leads to a variety of Fulton Mall retail establishments (or the ghosts thereof), and one of those retail establishments was Luftenberg’s Bridal. While not located in the stadium proper, the Luftenberg’s signage in left field is a distinctive Chukchansi characteristic and it will be interesting to see what becomes of it now that the business in question has re-located (after more than 70 years occupying the building seen in the above picture).

Accompanying me for the bulk of my evening at Chuckchansi was media relations coordinator Chris Kutz, a Fresno native who was in his last week with the Grizzlies before moving on to a job within Kansas State’s sports information department. I was glad to have Chris around, as he was a wellspring of local knowledge in general and Grizzlies knowledge in particular. For instance, he told me with pride that Chukchansi Park boasts this, the slowest elevator in Minor League Baseball.

053When it comes to that elevator all you can do is grin and bear it  (sorry, but there’s a claws in my contract that gives me free reign to make such jokes). We made it down eventually, and soon discovered that the scene at ground level was just as beautiful as that which had existed above. It was a beautiful day in Fresno. Amid the beauty, some early arriving fans had taken it upon themselves to snag some Grizzly autographs.

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But who cares about players when Parker’s around?

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I had actually scored an interview with Parker soon after arriving at the ballpark, a journalist coup if there ever was one. We touched on a variety of topics, most of them having to do with his presumed supremacy over all other mascots, but due to rampant fluctuations between the first and third person our conversation was largely unusable. These are the hazards that come with interviewing a mascot, who aren’t accustomed to communicating within the realm of words, but nonetheless I thank Parker for his time.

While he wasn’t the only mascot at Chukchansi that evening, he was still atop the bill. Duck, you sucker!

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Stare into the maw of eternal darkness

It’s probably a good idea to duck when I’m on the mound, as ever since throwing a perfect strike in Great Lakes my ceremonial first pitch offerings have been atrocious. Similar to Bakersfield, I overcompensated for my fear of bouncing it by tossing an ineffectual airmailed lob.

Ben on mound

Parker the arbiter

All alone in failure:

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Parker, gracious bear that he is, nonetheless gave me the thumbs up.

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My first pitch segued into the National Anthem, which was to be sung by Joe Price.  Joe is a professor of religious studies at Whittier College and, as you may recall, he took a sabbatical in 2011 so that he and his wife, Bonnie, could traverse the Minor League landscape in an RV.  Joe sang the National Anthem at over 100 ballparks that season, which he dubbed “The Anthem Tour,” and I wrote an MiLB.com feature story about it HERE (the ongoing Anthem Tour blog, with dispatches from these ballparks, can be read HERE).

“I always love for people to join in, and for the anthem to be sung together regardless of political orientation,” said Joe, in my aforementioned 2011 feature story. “This can, potentially, be everyone’s national anthem. And as a result it can bridge the gap between the Tea Party and liberals, between hawks and doves. Because, even though it is a wartime song, it was written as a celebration of freedom. The preservation of our freedoms is what lies at the heart of it.”

Joe at the ready, as the fans sitting in the Dugout Club suites behind him engage in an amateur otolaryngological exam.

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Given the depth and breadth of Joe’s National Anthem knowledge, the Grizzlies had agreed to allow him to sing the song’s fourth stanza as well as the first. (Read the lyrics HERE.) Unfortunately there was confusion in the Grizzlies PA booth regarding just what it was that Joe would be doing, and most fans were summarily confused by his double-length rendition. Nonetheless, it was cool to see this lesser known portion of the song get a public airing and I hope Joe gets the chance to do it again sometime.

With the game almost underway, Chris led me on a tour of Chukchansi’s labyrinthian corridors. The Grizzlies, a Giants affiliate, were playing the Albuquerque Isotopes, a Dodgers affiliate, and this would explain one of the first things we came across: a decimated prop from one of Parker’s recent skits.

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Parker and a camouflage-adept accomplice, hastily departing from the scene of their Dodger-bashing crime.

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Parker was able to escape to parts unknown, but he didn’t exactly disappear without a trace.

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As for the rest of Parker’s belongings? They can be found here:

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All sorts of sartorial wonders lurk within this room.

And let it be known: in addition to having the slowest elevator in Minor League Baseball, the Grizzlies can also boast of having the largest number of non-functioning industrial kitchen appliances.

Outside of the Grizzlies clubhouse, a series of motivational signs have been posted by the parent club. They are very well done, these signs.

066Each sign features a player who exemplifies the characteristic in question. Here’s a closer look at “The Journey,” as personified by the long, unpredictable and ultimately triumphant career of Ryan Vogelsong.

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But is that really the best quote they could come up with? Bochy’s syntax is exquisitely mangled: “Well, I’ve said so many times about Ryan is how impressive his perseverance has been through everything.”

After trying to process that tortured mouthful of inspirational managerial verbiage I needed a breath of fresh air.

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And alright! A game was going on!

That’s my cue to end Part One of this blogging odyssey, and my promise is that Part Two will pick up exactly where Part One left off.  Until then, thank you for putting up with me, reader. Well, I’ve said so many times about you is how impressive your perseverance has been through everything.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: On Top of the Action in Visalia

Part one of this current mini-saga was good for what Visalia, as it detailed the charming quirks, historical markers and reptilian wrath appeasement efforts to be found throughout Rawhide Ballpark. We now pick up where we left off, with the game having just begun.

A modest Sunday evening crowd had filtered in, many of them settling atop the gunite slab of a grandstand (Rawhide Ballpark has just fewer than 2000 fixed seats, the smallest total in affiliated professional baseball).

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The ballpark features minuscule amounts of foul territory, meaning that concourse vantage points are very close to the action. And the dugout view is particularly unique, in that you can look straight down on the players below.

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As for looking down into the dugouts, this Vine video should illustrate my point. (Also, I like that it captures an audio snippet of someone saying “Colt 45.” I have no idea what this was a reference to as neither guns nor malt liquor are sold at the ballpark.)

The up close and personal nature of the ballpark also means that you can hear just about everything that is said. While I was standing here Rancho Cucamonga hitting coach Johnny Washington, who was coaching first base at the time, ambled over to the dugout and said something to the effect of “Did you check the [expletive deleted] outfield? That’s a [expletive deleted] horse [expletive deleted] lead. That’s [expletive deleted] terrible! C’mon!”

Kids, take it from me: if you want to take your profanity game to the next level,  then hang out near the dugout at Rawhide Ballpark when the Quakes are in town.

But let’s take things back in to the realm of the family-friendly. Here’s Tipper, the Rawhide mascot (I’m kicking myself now, for neglecting to include him in one of my boVine videos).

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A local cheerleading squad was on hand, performing before the game as well as several times during it. Between routines they practiced on the Pasture, which increased the evening’s “charming Americana” factor by 1.5.

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A photo collage along the front entrance gates features this absolutely classic moment, from the Rawhide’s absolutely classic “Belle of the Ballpark” promo. (I wrote about the 2011 iteration HERE).

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The above photo is across the way from, yes, the best gunite-coated dirt slab to be found in all of Minor League Baseball. Here’s yet another look at it:

080But back to the concourse, because I’m not quite sure how I got away from there in the first place. Looking across the way toward the home dugout, I was intrigued by what looked like a painted white cross on the wall. While trying to land a picture of the cross, I instead got this image of crotch-grabbing in action.

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And, yes, that is a large white cross painted on the dugout wall. I forgot to get the background story on why it’s there, but it seems out of place within the ostensibly secular confines of the ballpark. (This picture also gives a good indication of the extent to which the concourse is literally atop the dugouts.)

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Perhaps the most famous denizen to be found within the home dugout is batboy Les Kissick. He’s held the job for 14 years, and when I first posted the following Vine video it was met with a stream of responses from Visalia diehards along the lines of “Les!!! He’s the best!!!”

Meanwhile, one could find guest emcee Chad Stafford, a DJ on Visalia country station KJUG, patrolling the concourse.

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Chad had another duty to perform on this particular evening, as the Rawhide had recruited him to serve as the designated eater. (You know, the individual who consumes and critiques the ballpark delicacies that my gluten-free diet prohibits.) He and I soon adjourned to the Hall of Fame Club, where food and beverage director Chris Lukasiewicz was waiting with an array of items.

Welcome Chad and, yes,  welcome giant pretzel.

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That’s the Texas Twist, a 24 ounce monster whose holes are filled with warm cups of nacho cheese. Chad gave it a try and reported that “it might be a little too salty, but it’s soft on the inside. For one person it’s a bit excessive, but it’s great for a lot of people to share.”

There’s no doubt that this would be way too much pretzel for one person, but nonetheless the Rawhide have devised a “Texas Twist Challenge” that is open to all fans. Lukasiewicz carved out six seconds of his life in order to offer the following explanation:

Meanwhile, I was presented with this off-menu offering, which Lukasiewicz often prepares for the gluten-free girlfriend of a Rawhide front office staffer.

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That’s a “Fajita Dog” bratwurst with garlic aioli sauce atop a bed of peppers, onions, melted Montery Jack cheese and fries which have themselves been tossed in fresh minced garlic.

I approve!

Chad, meanwhile, approved of the burger that had just been presented to him.

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That’s the “Cowboy Burger,” to be exact, topped with Kinder’s BBQ sauce, cheese, three slices of Applewood bacon and two onion rings.

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Chad, a BBQ aficionado, said that he liked the Cowboy Burger because “the onion rings are great and whatever cheese they use is perfect for it.”

But as for what cheese that is, I neglected to find out. It shall always remain a mystery.

Less of a mystery is this, the final item to be highlighted:

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Those nachos are of the “loaded asada” variety: nacho cheese, shredded cheese, salsa, dried onion, jalapenos and your choice of meat.

“The salsa, that’s the kicker,” said Chad, who’s been a presence on the Visalia airwaves over the last eight years. “And it’s all covered, which is just how I like it.”

Also all covered is the food portion of the evening. Thanks to Lukasiewicz and thanks, of course, to Chad.

Out on the concourse I struck up a conversation with Rawhide community relations manager/Hispanic marketing manager/on-field emcee Jesus Romero (he of the gluten-free girlfriend). As you can see, Jesus is loyal to his employer.

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With the game in its final third, I slowed my pace and did a final lap around the ballpark.

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I then settled into a seat in Row M, the highest vantage point available at Rawhide Ballpark (save for the skyboxes).

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Or, if awkwardly conceived panoramas are more your thing:

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The ballgame was tied entering the bottom of the ninth inning, meaning that it time for a visit from Jesus Romero and the Rally Squad.

The Rally Squad are great at their jobs, as in the bottom of the ninth inning this place was rocking! Visalia fans know how to support the hometown team.

And with the place a rocking the Rawhide offense came a knockin,’ as Tom Belza singled to lead off the inning and, two batters later, scored on a Sean Jamieson single. It was a good day to be a Rawhide fan and, thus, a good day for me to have visited.

As the crowd filed out I paid one last visit to team broadcaster/historian/reptile hex articulator Donny Baarns, whose computer screen displayed a list of dozens of ways to say “here’s the pitch.” Perhaps he should get a copy of The Baseball Thesaurus?

100As Donny took his listeners through the ups and downs of the ballgame, I watched the last “run the bases” straggler finally reach home plate.

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And that was all that she wrote (she being me, of course).

Gunite from Visalia!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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