Results tagged ‘ Pacific Coast League ’

On the Road: Gourmet Nachos and Hot Chicken in Nashville

To see all posts from my August 5, 2015 visit to the Nashville Sounds (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my July/August 2015 trip through the Deep South, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

As mentioned in the previous installments of this series, the Nashville Sounds (Triple-A affiliate of the Oakland A’s) proudly serve the local specialty that is “Hot Chicken.”


They also serve a host of unique high-quality concessions at the “Band Box” in right field.

027028My designated eater — you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet prohibits — for this evening at First Tennessee Park was Tyler Glaser.

085 (more…)

On the Road: Truncated and Deflated in Nashville

To see all posts from my August 5, 2015 visit to the Nashville Sounds (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my July/August 2015 trip through the Deep South, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

When I visited Nashville’s Greer Stadium in 2013, the Sounds were expecting me:

1261Two years later, I once again visited Nashville and, once again, the Sounds were expecting me. Specifically, Sounds creative services manager Alex Wassel was expecting me. Here he is in the team’s front office digs, on the upper level of their new home of First Tennessee Park.


Let’s take a closer look at Alex’s calendar for August 5. Clearly, he had written this down months and months before my arrival.
064Yes! Continuity! This is “Ben Hill in Tha House, Part Two.” Not only was it my second visit to Nashville, but this is also the second post in this series detailing my visit to the Sounds’ new home of First Tennessee Park. Part One contained a detailed overview of my pregame tour of the ballpark. As we begin Part Two, “Tha House” was about to open.
IMG_0207Any moment now, hordes of Nashvillians would be swarming into First Tennessee Park. Once inside, they would be able to gaze upon the wonder of the guitar scoreboard.

IMG_0210Perhaps they would gaze upon the wonder of the scoreboard while playing a spirited game of cornhole at the Band Box Bar.


Or maybe they’d simply gaze at this sign on the back of the batter’s eye, lost in nostalgic reverie regarding all of the professional baseball that had previously been played at this site.


Regardless, it was sure to be a beautiful evening at the ballpark. The tarp, which had resided contently upon the field throughout the afternoon, had been removed. All was beautiful. All was well. Nothing could, or would, go wrong. Of this I was sure.

IMG_0212With the hordes now unleashed, it was time for me to bid adieu to Alex and his front office surroundings. But not before documenting a Sounds’ collector’s cup that happened to be in the vicinity. Hey, #cupdate fiends — here’s your #cupdate!


Barry Zito — Major League star turned retiree turned 2015 Nashville Sound turned improbable late-season 2015 Oakland Athletic — is on this cup. #Cupdate!

069Downstairs, the hordes were streaming in. Booster the Hot Chicken was there to greet them.

IMG_0213Booster is a “hot chicken.”

IMG_0215“Hot chicken” as in, a spicy form of fried fowl that originated in Nashville. It is now a ballpark specialty, and I’ll include details on it in the next (and last) post of this Nashville Sounds blog series.


In short order, Booster and I made our way down onto the field. It was time for “Belle of the Ballpark” to begin, a beauty pageant for women 60 and older sponsored by Baby Boomer-centric radio station Hippie 94.5. Host Barry explained to the pregame crowd that, throughout the course of the evening, the contestants would be judged based on personality, appearance and crowd reaction. Then, one would be declared “Belle” of the ballpark. That has a nice ring to it.

071One of the contestants waves to the crowd:

074Meanwhile, the players warmed up…

077…while Booster rallied the hordes.

Soon enough, it was time for the National Anthem.

080And after the National Anthem? All that’s left to do, really, is “Play Ball.”

081Soon after the game began, I rendezvoused with my designated eater (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). That, again, will be detailed in the next post.

But here’s the thing: It started raining almost as soon as the game began. And it kept on raining for a while. The game went into a delay in the first inning, and was suspended after less than an hour. It was kind of baffling that the game was called so quickly, especially since the rain was never torrential, stopped within a half hour of starting, and the field is capable of draining 10 inches of water per hour. But no baseball was the new reality. That evening’s game between the Sounds and Redbirds would not be played, and there would be no Belle of the Ballpark.

But so be it: At least one day I can tell my grandkids that I witnessed the first rainout in the history of First Tennessee Park. That’s gotta count for something, right? (Let’s overlook the fact that, to the best of my knowledge, I don’t even have kids.)

But the proper historical perspective didn’t settle into my brain space until later that evening. My immediate reaction was frustration, which caused me to deliver the evening’s Groundbreaking and Subversive Joke in a state of duress. I said “rain delay” when I meant “rainout,” but it’s too late to change things now.

Eh, whatever. Just stay tuned for the next post. There’ll be some photos of Hot Chicken. Or, as I and no one else likes to call it, fiery fowl.

On the Road: My First Look at First Tennessee Park in Nashville

To see all posts from my August 5, 2015 visit to the Nashville Sounds (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my July/August 2015 trip through the Deep South, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

The ultimate stop of the year’s penultimate road trip was Nashville, home of the Sounds. I last visited the Sounds in 2013, not long ago at all, but there was a valid reason to make a return trip.

New stadium!

015First Tennessee Park, the front entrance of which resembles a hockey arena, replaces Greer Stadium. Greer, built in 1978, had a ramshackle charm that I really enjoyed. It was also a bit of a dump, and not up to the standards required by current Minor League Baseball facilities. For confirmation of Greer’s “dump” status, just ask veteran members of the Sounds front office. They all have (usually hilarious) Greer horror stories, as it was a generally dis-a-Greer-able place to work.

First Tennessee Park is located north of Greer Stadium, in downtown Nashville, built on the same site where Sulphur Dell Ballpark (operational from 1870 to 1963) once stood. I arrived many hours before game time, parking in a nearby lot which may or may not have been a legitimate place to park.

011“Is this a Sounds parking lot?” I asked a game day food service employee walking in the direction of the ballpark.

“Well, we use it,” was the reply.

Good enough for me!

The weather forecast on this Tuesday afternoon was ominous; the cloud cover was thick and heavy rains were expected. When I arrived the tarp was on the field, but the presence of a tarp could not deter a pregame walking tour. In this endeavor, Sounds vice president of operations Doug Scopel served as my guide.


The guitar scoreboard was the most iconic feature of Greer Stadium and, as you can see in the above picture, First Tennessee Park features guitar scoreboard 2.0.

024Doug noted that the main body of the scoreboard is the equivalent of 860 32″ televisions. Note, also, that the line score is displayed on the guitar’s bridge and that each fret is made up of a separate screen.

“That’s the biggest question we got,” said Doug. “‘Are you bringing the guitar?’ It’s part of Nashville Sounds baseball, we had to have it.”

As a reference point, this is what the original guitar scoreboard at Greer looked like.


The tour began in earnest in the outfield concourse, where the view of the field looked a little something like this:

021I should note at this juncture that I’ve already written a recap of my First Tennessee Park tour, which ran on As always, in the interest of minimal redundancy, I shall quote directly from that article whenever it is appropriate to do so.

Like, right now:

The facility is largely surrounded by barricaded dirt lots at the moment, but change is imminent. The land adjacent to the facility is owned, variously, by the state of Tennessee, Metro Nashville and private developers (including the Sounds’ ownership group). Much of the development to come, including condominiums beyond left field and a parking garage beyond right, has been spearheaded by [Sounds owner Frank] Ward and his sons, Chris and Tim. 

constructIn the below picture, the darker colored concrete is part of a preexisting greenway that ran through the municipal parking lots that once dominated (and still exist) in the area.


Doug said that the long-term plan is to alter the location of the concourse fences in order to make this portion of the greenway accessible to the public on non-gamedays. (There will also be an entryway to the ballpark via a culdesac from Fourth Avenue, which will accommodate fans arriving from the still-under-construction parking garage in the photo seen above.)

Fans of this series of concrete-based photos will thrill to this loading, which is somehow wide enough to accommodate two tractor trailers parked side-by-side.

025This sign, on the back of the batter’s eye, pays homage to Sulphur Dell. It is an approximation of the sign that once stood outside of the ballpark, which hosted 94 seasons of baseball.

023Again, from my piece:

“The reason our mayor and our owner came to this site is because it brings development, and it brings baseball home,” said Scopel. “This was Nashville’s baseball home for 93 years. … We wanted to find ways to educate and honor the 93 years that had come before.” 


Most visibly, Sulphur Dell is commemorated via the rust-colored “Baseball’s Most Historic Park” signage located behind the batter’s eye in center field. Furthermore, all directional signage within the stadium is accompanied by a photo of a Nashville player who made his mark playing at Sulphur Dell. For instance, this concourse sign highlights the prodigious two-way talents of 1902 Nashville Vol Hugh Hill.


Hugh Hill: No relation to Ben

Moving toward right field, one finds the “Band Box.” Take it away, previously written article:

[The Band Box] is a concession and general hangout area in right field created in partnership with Nashville-based Strategic Hospitality (whose Nashville portfolio includes a half-dozen restaurants that are, for lack of a better word, hip).  

“The specific thought was to create a spot for the young-adult crowd,” said Scopel.

The Band Box includes a full-service bar, sprawling lounge furniture, ping pong tables, and, in what must be a Minor League first, a shuffle board table.

029The sound system in the Band Box operates separately from the PA system, giving fans even more opportunity to completely ignore what’s going on in the ballgame.  030And, yes, the above italicized text didn’t lie. There is indeed a ballpark shuffleboard table!

032Within the Band Box’s right field seating area, patrons can attract the attention of their servers by raising the mail flag attached to each table. These tables, consisting of four seats apiece, cost $70. There are 27 tables, total.

033For the last time, a quote from my piece:

First Tennessee Ballpark is LEED (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design) Silver Certified, and perhaps the most visible element of this green approach is the cistern located in right field. Rainwater runoff from the roof and storm water drain is pumped into the cistern, and the water is used for irrigating the playing field.

“It’s about reusing the water that’s already here, so that we’re not taking fresh water all of the time,” said Scopel. 


I’m not sure if the Sounds will install another cistern next to the one seen above, but it’s generally agreed that one cistern deserves another. (Cisterns that leak and thus fail to collect rainwater are called “Twisted Cisterns” because “they’re not gonna take it.”)

The concourse is composed of ultra-smooth MMA flooring, which stands for “methyl methacrylate” and not “mixed martial arts.” The concession stand seen below, one of four on the concourse, is called “Sulphur Dell Slices.” I’ll cover some of the concession offerings later in this series.


First Tennessee Park has four “Field Suites” behind home plate, each of which accommodate 40 people. They are available on a per-game basis.


While the Field Suites are pretty cool, they do make a significant chunk of seating unavailable to fans who might wish to sit behind home plate.
047The playing field is situated 17 feet below street level, meaning that the dugout, seen below, is situated even lower. Also, these must be the widest dugouts in all of Minor League Baseball. (They weren’t designed to be this wide, but mistakes happen.)

051Whilst strolling through the ballpark’s ever-pleasant bowels, Doug and I passed the indoor batting cage.

050But soon it was back up to the concourse and into the team store.

053This throwback jersey honors the Volunteers (or “Vols”), denizens of Sulphur Dell from 1901-63.

055This jovial moment in Vols history is commemorated upstairs, in the owner’s suite.

057Also upstairs is the “Tequila Cuestion Club Lounge,” which offers views of the field or, if you turn in the other direction, views of a concession area.

060The view of the field, at this juncture of the afternoon, included the removal of the tarp. Things were looking up!

062Would there be a game on this gray Tuesday evening in Nashville? Stay tuned to find out!


On the Road: Reptile Meat Topped with Mud Bugs in New Orleans

To see all posts from my July 28, 2015 visit to the New Orleans Zephyrs (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my July/August 2015 trip through the Deep South, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE! 

If there’s one thing you think about when you think about New Orleans, it very well may be “food.” From jambalaya to crawfish to oysters to muffalettas to Po’ Boys to gumbo to beignets and beyond, this is a city with no shortage of distinct culinary specialties.

Zephyr Field offers a solid array of region-specific concession items, allowing fans to forgo the traditional hot dogs and Cracker Jacks options endemic to the baseball culinary experience. The forgoing of hot dogs became a foregone conclusion on the Tuesday evening in which I was in attendance, as the local “Lucky Dogs” stand was closed for the evening.

019Boudreaux’s Smoke House, named after the team’s nutria mascot, did not serve nutria stew and thus that was skipped over as well.


Instead, we settled on the unnamed stand located to the right of the Smoke House. There, one could find an array of New Orleans-centric items.

020In the above paragraph, when I said that “we” settled on the above concession stand, I was referring to myself and my designated eater (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). On this Tuesday night in New Orleans, that individual was one Eric Olsen. He was in attendance along with his wife, Ami.

027Eric has actually appeared on this blog already this season, albeit in an incidental, extremely subtle way. He’s a member of the “Little Piggy Wall-O-Shame,” as a result of failing to complete the Norfolk Tides’ “Salute to Pork Challenge.” Unbeknownst to me, but when I visited Norfolk last month I snapped a photo that included Eric within it. Within this melange of stuffed and defeated men, he’s in the first vertical row, second from the bottom.


Ami was not the biggest fan of Eric’s pork-eating endeavors.

“For the love of our name, don’t throw up,” was the thought running through her mind at the time. “Better a quitter than a puker.”


Eric grew up in Queens, New York and moved with his family to the New Orleans area when he was a teenager. He met Ami via a blind date, and it was Ami who helped him land his current job as a “master control operator” with a local television station. (She moved on to the position of “station operations manager.”) The couple have worked together for the better part of the last two decades, and they often attend Zephyrs games together as well. Eric, a dedicated autograph collector, estimates that he visits Zephyr Field 60-65 times each season.

“This is what he loves,” said Ami. “We already spend eight hours a day together, so we might as well spend a couple more watching baseball.”

But when it came to designated eating, Eric was on his own.

024In Eric’s right hand is a gator sausage po’boy topped with crawfish etouffee, in his left is jambalaya (which, really, should be served in a helmet).  We began with the gator.


Go for it, Eric:

“It’s good. Has a nice kick to it, and the etouffee has a good flavor to it. I’d definitely get this again,” said Eric, who had never ordered this particular item before. “You’ve got the crunch of the sausage, the spice, the onions and the peppers. I’ve had fried alligator before, and like everyone says, it tastes like chicken. But, to me, this is almost like a Spicy Italian.”


“It’s not a typical po’ boy bun, it’s more a hoagie than French bread,” he added. “They’re stretching the definition just a tad.”

For the record, Eric’s favorite place to get a po’ boy is Short Stop, located in Metairie. He also reported that his crawfish cravings are most thoroughly satisfied at the Gumbo Shop in the French Quarter.

Ami, too, is a Gumbo Shop fan.

“The blackened catfish nuggets? Oh, my God,” she said. “You get them with a Creole honey mustard meets orange marmalade dipping sauce.”

Such recollections complete, we then moved on to the ballpark jambalaya. It’s shot through with sausage and shredded chicken.


“It’s good, spicy, and there’s a lot of sausage,” said Eric.

026“It’s good, spicy and there’s a lot of sausage.”

That’s a solid quote, succinct and descriptive, so with that we’ll say goodbye to Eric. His designated eater duties were completed successfully, ensuring that he would not be inducted into another food related Wall-O-Shame.

Once is enough.


On the Road: Cruising Through a Tuesday Night in New Orleans

To see all posts from my July 28, 2015 visit to the New Orleans Zephyrs (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my July/August 2015 trip through the Deep South, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE! 

So, as I was saying in part one of this New Orleans blog saga, I happened to visit Zephyr Field on what was a low-key Tuesday night.

016While the Zephyrs play in a sizable market, they’re in a tough situation regarding their ability to consistently draw large crowds. There are endless year-round entertainment options in New Orleans, so professional baseball in a neighboring suburb is bound to get overlooked by locals and tourists alike. Plus, the area is one of the few in the country where college baseball — particularly Louisiana State University — is a major draw in its own right. The biggest crowd in Zephyr Field history was in 2001, and it wasn’t to see the Zephyrs. Rather it was to see LSU take on Tulane in the super regionals.

College football is massively popular in the greater New Orleans as well, and of course the National Football League Saints are a year-round concern. There’s also an National Basketball Association team — the Pelicans — whose name is, at least in part, an homage to the New Orleans Pelicans Minor League club that operated throughout the first half of the 20th century. In fact, Pelicans owner Tom Benson (who also owns the Saints) tried to relocate the (then) Double-A Charlotte Knights to New Orleans in 1993. If he had done so, he would have named them the “Pelicans.” This move never came to fruition, however, as the Denver Zephyrs relocated to New Orleans instead (more info on that move can be found in the previous post).

The Saints train in Metairie, and their preseason facility is visible from Zephyr Field. It’s that rectangular building in the distance, not-so-secretly containing an indoor football field.


If one was to then move one’s head, and thus, eyes, to the left, then one would then see that Zephyr Field has a pool.

017There is also a small concourse arcade, for those who just can’t, under any circumstance, bring themselves to watch baseball. (For the record, I was once pretty good at “Cruisin’ USA,” a staple of boardwalk arcades during my teenage years.)


But while cruisin’ is allowed, smokin’ is not. There was something about this signage that captured me; at first glance it appeared to be a cryptic communique from a lost civilization.


Crusin’ back to the field of play, here’s how things looked from the third base side.

031And then it was up to the press box, where Z view was quite nice.

035You know you’re in New Orleans when the press box spread includes bags of Zapp’s. Roger that:

IMG_0020When in the press box, idle wandering wasn’t my primary concern. I ended up spending an enjoyable inning and a half on the air with the Zephyrs broadcast team of Tim Grubbs and Ron Swoboda (yes, the Ron Swoboda, of 1969 Miracle Mets fame).  Grubbs calls all 144 Zephyrs games each season and also coordinates team travel; Swoboda, a veteran TV sports journalist who has long called New Orleans home, joins him for every home game.


During the course of our on-air conversation, we got to talking about my recent story on Norfolk Tides executive vice president Dave Rosenfield. I mentioned that Rosenfield was once name-checked on The Simpsons and Swoboda mentioned that he was as well.

Wow, I had forgotten about that! It’s in the season 22 episode Moneybart:

Marge: Lisa, can’t you let your brother back on the team? Fly balls and fungoes come and go, but family is forever. 

Homer: Sorry, Marge, I got to call bullcrap on that one. The ’69 Mets will live on forever, but do you think anyone cares about Ron Swoboda’s wife and kids? Not me, and I assume not Ron Swoboda. 

Swoboda laughed off this out-of-right-field swipe, with an attitude of “Hey, at least people are still talking about me.”

Anyhow, thanks to Grubbs and Swoboda for having me on. This photo of the three of us, taken in rushed circumstances during a commercial break, is not ideal. But it’s all I’ve got, and I’m happy to have it.



On the Road: Taking a Ride on the Zephyr in New Orleans

To see all posts from my July 28, 2015 visit to the New Orleans Zephyrs (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my July/August 2015 trip through the Deep South, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE! 

Quick! What’s the first thing that pops into your head when you think of the city of New Orleans?

No matter what you said, I can (almost) guarantee that it wasn’t “wide open spaces.”

003 I can also (almost) guarantee that it wasn’t “baseball.”

004But, yet, here we are at Zephyr Field, a baseball stadium in a wide open space that serves as the home of the New Orleans Zephyrs. The Zephyrs play in the Pacific Coast League. If there’s one thing you think of when you think “New Orleans,” I can (definitely) guarantee that it isn’t the Pacific Coast.

Technically, Zephyr Field isn’t even in New Orleans. It’s in Metairie,  a suburb located a few miles northwest from New Orleans proper. I was there on Tuesday, July 28, with Zephyr Field the first stop of my Deep South “Shucking and Driving” road trip.

At the time that I arrived, the gates had yet to open. The concourse was largely deserted…

005…as were the playing field and stands…


…as was the upper level.

009My companion during these pre-game wanderings was Zephyrs media relations director Dave Sachs, who was full of facts, figures, anecdotes and wry asides. He told me that the franchise’s previous incarnation was the Denver Zephyrs of the American Association, who moved to New Orleans after the 1992 season to make way for the Major League expansion Colorado Rockies. The New Orleans Zephyrs played at Privateer Park — the home of New Orleans Privateers college baseball — for the first four seasons of their existence before moving to brand-new Zephyrs Field in 1997.

The Zephyrs were a Brewers affiliate during those first four years, but when they moved into the new ballpark they dumped the Brewers in favor of the Astros. This is very similar to what happened to the Brewers this past offseason, as they got dumped by the Nashville Sounds (in favor of the Athletics) just as the Sounds were moving into a new ballpark. What I’m trying to say is that over the past two decades the Brewers have not been treated well by their Triple-A affiliates.

Furthermore! In today’s Minor League Baseball landscape, where unique regional identity is everything, it seems inconceivable that a team would keep the same name after moving to another location. The Denver Zephyrs were an homage to the iconic Denver Zephyr passenger train, which ran nonstop to Chicago. But the “Zephyrs” name, as luck would have it, had a New Orleans tie-in as well. Pontchartrain Beach amusement park, defunct since 1983, had had a popular roller coaster named the Zephyr. Thus, the team kept the name upon moving to New Orleans. Until visiting Zephyr Field and talking to Dave, I had not known this backstory, incorrectly and smugly assuming (as I am wont to do) that the only team in Minor League Baseball named after a roller coaster was the Brooklyn Cyclones. 

This bar on the concourse is called the “Last Ride,” paying tribute to what had once been Pontchartrain Beach’s star attraction.

006Dave also told me that Zephyr Field’s outfield berm, nicknamed “The Levee,” allegedly boasts the highest elevation in New Orleans. We’ll put aside the fact that Zephyrs Field is not actually located in New Orleans, as that kind of complicates this factoid.

007Let’s back up for a moment, however, before this roller coaster of a blog post careens off the tracks completely.

Soon after arriving at Zephyr Field, I interviewed infielder (and former Louisiana State University standout) Austin Nola regarding his “name on the front/ name on the back” jersey status. Pretty cool, right?


PHOTO: Parker Waters, New Orleans Zephyrs

My story on Nola and his NOLA connection, which also includes his thoughts on how he might fare against his brother (pitcher Aaron, now with the Phillies) can be found HERE.

The Zephyrs NOLA uniforms are part of a larger emphasis on displaying New Orleans pride. Prior to the 2010 season, the team adopted a Fleur de Lis primary logo:


The Fleur de Lis mark replaced a Nutria-themed logo, featuring mascot Boudreaux. In an article on the new logo, a writer (me) explained that nutria are “orange-toothed, semi-aquatic rodents that are prevalent in the city of New Orleans.” This article also featured the brilliant lede of, “In with the new, out with the nutria.”


Old Logo

Nutria, for the record, are fit for human consumption. Boudreaux the mascot is NOT fit for human consumption, however. Do not try to eat him. Or his wife, (the former Clotile Picou). Or their six kids (Beauregard, Cherie, Claudette, Jean-Pierre, Noelle and Thibodaux). Mascot procreation is alive and well in Metairie, though the specifics of this act and subsequent childbirth are closely-guarded industry secrets.

booOh boy. Let’s get this train back on the tracks.

The Zephyrs front offices are located on the ground floor. Clearly, the team had recently staged a Back to the Future promotion.


Here’s Dave Sachs in his office, which has become a storehouse for All-Star Game voting stations. Paper balloting has been discontinued, thankfully. Otherwise he’d soon have run out of room.

013Soon after the above photo was taken, Dave departed for the press box. I, meanwhile, headed to the stands. It was a low-key night, another thing you probably don’t think of when you think of New Orleans.

016But, yet, here we are…at the end of this post. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion, which I can (almost) guarantee is not the first thing that pops into your mind when you think “Ben’s Biz Blog.”

About Last Night: Nashville Sounds, August 5, 2015

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll be writing an on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon my return home, I’ll provide the multifaceted blog coverage that you have come to know and, perhaps, even love. Let’s get to it, lest it get to us!

2015 “On the Road” landing page — including complete itinerary — HERE! 

August 5, 2015:  First Tennessee Park, home of the Nashville Sounds

Opponent: Memphis Redbirds, 7:05 p.m. game time.

First Tennessee Park, from the outside:

015First Tennessee Park, from within:

029Culinary Creation: Hot Chicken, a Nashville specialty

Ballpark Character: Booster the rooster, a “Hot Chicken” made literal

078At Random: The Sounds’ old home of Greer Stadium was known for its guitar-shaped scoreboard. Here’s guitar scoreboard, version 2.0


Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: I’m not sure that this is even a joke. But, yeah, the first rainout in the history of First Tennessee Park just happened to coincide with the one evening in which I was in town.

Next Up:

My next (and last) road trip of the year kicks off on Aug. 29 with the Connecticut Tigers. Until then, I sleep.

About Thursday Night: Omaha Storm Chasers, May 28, 2015

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll be writing a short, on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon my return home, I’ll provide the multifaceted blog coverage that you have come to know and, perhaps, even love. Let’s get to it, lest it get to us! 

May 28, 2015: Werner Park, home of the Omaha Storm Chasers (Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals)

Opponent: Tacoma Rainiers, 6:35 p.m. game time

Werner Park, from the outside:


Werner Park, from the inside: 


Culinary Creation: The “Reuben Philly” (chopped corn beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, 1000 island dressing, rye hoagie bun)


At Random: Minor League Baseball, summarized


Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: 

It’s All Over: Thanks to a cameo appearance at Principal Park in Des Moines en route to Omaha, I saw two Pacific Coast League victories in the same day.

Next Up: 

5/29: Travel Day, return home to cat yelling at me

5/30: Seeing the Who in Forest Hills, Queens

5/31: Sleep for 37 hours consecutively

Growlin’ and Meowin’

As we approach the 2015 season, one thing that has been made abundantly clear is that there is no love lost between the Fresno Grizzlies and Sacramento River Cats.

The rivalry between the two Pacific Coast League Pacific Northern Division clubs took an interesting twist upon the conclusion of the 2014 season when the San Francisco Giants severed ties with Fresno, their long-time Triple-A affiliate, in favor of Sacramento. It’s the Minor League Baseball equivalent of getting jilted by a long-time lover in favor of an enticing seductress.

This turn of the events left Fresno scrambling for a new affiliate (the Houston Astros, as it turned out) as well as a new identity. After all, a Giants affiliation was all that the team had ever known. In November, I wrote a piece about the Grizzlies’ marketing strategy in the wake of San Francisco’s departure, which included this quote:

“We’ve started a “Growlifornia”-themed marketing campaign, revolving around our unique California vibe,” said Grizzlies marketing director Sam Hansen. “When California revolted against Mexico [in 1846] it was called the ‘Bear Flag Rebellion.’ That’s why the California state flag has a bear on it. We’re celebrating the Bear Flag Rebellion of 2015, because people here in Fresno feel that rebellious sort of pride. This is our own unique region, and our affiliation with Houston is going to help us get back to those roots.”

Screen_Shot_2015_02_01_at_7.11.02_PM_3aanok86_poh4urz9But then a funny thing happened. In December, the River Cats co-opted a key element of the Grizzlies’ “Growlifornia” campaign by announcing a California state flag theme jersey promotion of their very own. Sacramento is the capital of California, after all. That’s all the justification they needed.


This River Cats’ promotion did not sit well with the Grizzlies, and a feisty Twitter war between the two clubs ensued.

The Grizzlies may have been bruised by that turn of events, but they were certainly not beaten. River Cats, Schmiver Cats. You want a California flag theme jersey? This is a California flag theme jersey. And, what’s more, it will be worn during the first home stand of the season. Consider the tone set.

The Grizzlies’ theme jersey unveiling came one day after the team posted an open letter from executive vice president Derek Franks, entitled “The Bear Flag Rebellion Begins Now.” A relevant excerpt:

There’s a shift happening around this organization and it’s brought the community together more than ever. No matter what you hear, this team is not a trend or a fad. Fresno Grizzlies baseball is a way of life and one that is unapologetically Central Californian. We’re going to flip the script of what you expect from a Minor League Baseball team this season. Don’t believe us? We’ll prove you otherwise.

And — BREAKING — just before this blog post went to “press” yet another war of the words broke out between these two distinguished entities. Theme jerseys sure are a contentious topic!

Whew! This beef is hotter than a cattle ranch on Venus. Clearly, Fresno is going to remain on the offensive and, clearly, Sacramento aren’t going to back down from a challenge. And when it comes to the River Cats on Twitter, engage at your own risk. During the 2013-14 offseason, the Reno Aces learned this the hard way:

On the Road: Elvis, Willie and Rojo in Round Rock

My sixth and final stop on this, my first road trip of the 2014 season, was Round Rock, Texas. The Express, Triple-A affiliate of your Texas Rangers, are one of Round Rock’s (and the greater Austin area’s) top attractions.


The Express play at the Dell Diamond, which was built by legendary train robber Sam Bass in 1877 for use as a hideout from the law (either that, or I have misread the Wikipedia entry). These days, the trains are safe from the likes of Mr. Bass. This one sped past as I was entering the stadium, unencumbered from the constant threat of a hostile takeover.

As for the team’s name of “Express,” that’s a nod to the nickname of team co-owner Nolan Ryan. ( It costs $8 to park at Dell Diamond, a rather high rate by MiLB standards, and the comparative exorbitance of that fee is particularly striking in light of the fact that Ryan issued a Major League-record 2,795 free passes during his career.)

Upon entering the stadium I was greeted by Express director of communications Jill Cacic, who immediately led me and my guest for the evening (you’ll meet him later) on a tour of Dell Diamond.

Upon further investigation, it appears that Dell Diamond opened not in 1877 but in 2000. For the first five seasons of the Express’s existence they played in the Double-A Texas League. That team relocated to Corpus Christi in 2005, becoming the Hooks and staying under the Ryan-Sanders ownership mantle, while the Edmonton Trappers of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League relocated to Round Rock and assumed the identity of the Express. Make sense? It’s kinda like that time that the Carolina League Kinston Indians re-located to Zebulon and assumed the identity of the Carolina Mudcats, while the Double-A team that had been the Mudcats relocated to Pensacola and became the Blue Wahoos. That’s the sort of comparison that everyone knows and relates to and can understand right away with no confusion whatsoever.

Anyhow, perhaps the most important thing that you need to know is this: there are a lot of Golden Chicks in the Dell Diamond dugout.


A cool quirk — or a #cooquirk, to use the internet parlance of the day — of the Dell Diamond is that the players enter and exit the field via this staircase located down the left field line. The purpose of this is to promote fan interaction with the players; like it or not, they’re gonna have to mingle with the hoi polloi. (The Corpus Christi Hooks’ home of Whataburger Field utilizes a similar strategy, except that the player entrance is located amid the third base stands as opposed to straightaway left field.)


At the top of the stairs one finds the entrance to the clubhouse. And, yes, players interacting with fans.




The view from the player’s entrance. It’s a long way to the Golden Chicks.


After going up the stairs we went right back down the stairs. Such is life. The purpose of our descent was so that I could be interviewed on the field by Express director of entertainment Ballpark Rob Runnels.

So we meet again, Ballpark Rob. My appearance has degenerated since the last time that I saw you.


Rob and I spoke about life, love, Nietzsche’s Ubermensch concept, pre-code Hollywood, DIY pickling techniques, the deleterious effects of clickbait on social discourse,  maintaining a connection with God amid an increasingly secular society, and Minor League Baseball.



My time on the videoboard, and on the field, continued beyond the interview. Next up was a ceremonial first pitch. The pictures tell the story.







Bounced it.

Fortunately, there weren’t too many people who witnessed my bounced first pitch. It was a Monday evening, and as the game started the crowd was rather sparse.


Nonetheless, the Express are averaging 7,985 fans per game this season, best in the Pacific Coast League. It is a fact of life that I always visit teams on off nights, and they always make sure to tell me so.

It’s not the size of the crowd that matters anyway, it’s how you use it. Spike, he always does his best to entertain.


Ready for his close-up:028

Speaking of Spike, one Spike Owen is on the Express coaching staff and Steve Buechele is the manager. As someone who collected baseball cards between the years 1986-1992, I am very familiar with these names. You probably are too.



Spike Owen’s middle name is Dee. Spike Dee Owen is a cool name.

With the game underway, I did what I do best: not watching the game. Instead, our ballpark tour resumed. Later, guys.


All of the Express’s food and beverage options are now handled in-house, via the newly-created Ryan-Sanders Sports Services (RS3 for short). I’ll have more on that later, but, for now:

This is the “Brew @ The Rock” bar, which features 16 beers on tap.


Those pieces of wood affixed to the bar are used as serving containers for “beer flights” ($8 for four four-ounce glasses), and they’re made out of baseball bats. I’m not sure when, but it’s a guarantee: other teams will steal this idea.

Teams will not, however, use this sign as a template. There’s a semi-colon where the comma should be, which completely changes the sign’s intended meaning.


Triple-A rosters are often comprised of veteran guys, who are for more likely to have wives and families than any other level of the Minors (guys at other levels of the Minors are far more likely to have video game systems, a dozen pairs of flip-flops, and the Tinder app on their phones). Hence this room, reserved for the families of the players.


There are plenty of other places in which to lounge at the Dell Diamond. These rocking chairs are available to anyone with a berm ticket, for an additional cost of $5 (first come, first served).


The members of the Express bullpen like to put their feet up as well.


As do the grounds crew.


RS3 also offers sports turf services throughout Texas, so this storage area has room for equipment above and beyond what is need to maintain their field. (When I post pictures such as these, I imagine MiLB groundskeepers in less lavish environments pounding their fist on the desk, spitting coffee onto the computer monitor, and yelling obscenities).

047While in the groundskeepers shed, I paid a visit to the center field camera well.



Looping around the stadium’s exterior, we soon came upon the player’s parking lot. You can generally tell which cars belong to players; there’s all sorts of overcompensation going on.


GMC envy

The owner of this vehicle possesses what very well may be the most bird poop-splattered Mercedes in all of Minor League Baseball. Get in touch if you are aware of any competition in this category.


The batting cage, and the motivational literature contained therein.


All of the above apply to Ben’s Biz Blog, which, in case you didn’t know, is the greatest Minor League Baseball blog of all time as well as most underrated entity in all of sports media. You know this. Tell a friend.

No segue:


You don’t see this at most ballparks.


Earlier on this trip, I visited the Midland RockHounds and made a note of the huge rock sitting just outside of the stadium. Flipping the script, the Express have a huge rock inside of the stadium. Fitting, as they are one of the boulder teams in Minor League Baseball.


If you’re not into sitting in front of a big rock, you can go swimming instead. I’m not sure if one can stand in this swimming pool or not. Guess that deep ends.


Our lap of the stadium complete, it was once again time to return to field level. Hola, Spike.


I was back on the field in order to compete in a between-inning shirt shag, in which I was tasked with catching t-shirts (launched from a slingshot) with a net.


I missed the first one due to lack of skill, as it clanked off the side of the net. I caught the second.


The third one was a soft launch, and I had to hustle for it. This photo makes it appear as if I might catch up to it, but I didn’t.




And what’s this? STOP THE PRESSES — full video documentation.

Okay, fine, whatever. Another on-field failure. But there’s no crying in Minor League Baseball blogging, a fact of life when you’re born with defective tear ducts.

Time to eat! My designated eater for the evening (you know, the individual recruited to consume the ballpark delicacies that my gluten-free diet prohibits) was Austin resident Phil Boyd.


Phil and I were friends (and, for three years, roommates) at the University of Pittsburgh. We initially bonded over a shared love of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and, wouldn’t you know it, he and his band Shockwave Riderz had just gotten off of a tour in which they opened for the Blues Explosion. Check out these Shockwave Riderz oscillations, and then cop some music here! It’s an In the Red Silver Apples synthscuzz Suicide attempt, like Dirty Beaches once the sleeping pills wear off.

Round Rock turned out to be a very good location in which to be a designated eater. As mentioned before, the team is now doing all of its concessions in-house, and executive chef Ed Ebert and food and beverage director Jay Kudla were psyched to show off their new creations.

What’s up, guys?


I wrote a feature about the concessions, and will try my best not to be overly redundant here. Each concession area is now a standalone, separately-branded entity, and there are a ton of options. Our first stop was the Metro Deli, which has three sandwiches named after Texas icons.



Herb mayo, get it?

You’ll also notice the words “gluten-free market” on the above sign. The Express cater to gluten-free diets whenever possible, and the staff is fully trained as regards food handling procedures as well as the specific ingredients in each item. They’re doing it right.

While my photo documentation is poor (by this point my camera batteries had died and I was fumbling around with an iPhone), Phil ended up with a McConaughey.


My notes regarding Phil’s opinion of this sandwich were much like McConaughey himself: kinda hard to comprehend. In a nutshell, he liked it but wasn’t blown away.

Meanwhile, I was trying my hand at the Big Kahuna Dog — a quarter-pound Nolan Ryan beef hot dog topped with mango salsa, pineapple mustard and avocado and served (for me) on a gluten-free bun. On the side are house-made sea salt and pepper chips (when the Express say that everything is made on-site, they really mean it. There are no bagged chips to be found, and homemade is MUCH better).

The gluten-free bun fell apart almost immediately (such is life, gluten is a binding agent) but this is a great dog and indicative of the Express’s attention to detail. Ebert and Kudla can (and will!) explain every component of every item in exacting detail. The result of this approach is food items that are uniformly fresh and flavorful.

Also available from the 50’s diner-themed “Fairlane’s” concession stand (or “storefronts,” as the team now calls them) is the James Dean hot dog. It’s topped with bleu cheese  slaw and Frank’s Red Hot:

“This is a classic Buffalo wing flavor, and the bleu cheese slaw is great,” said Phil. “This is a good dog, man.”

Also named after a 50’s icon, but far less traditional, is “The Elvis.” Banana and peanut butter on a bun, drizzled with honey.


The Elvis apparently sent Phil into a state of bliss.


“The cool thing about it is that’s dessert, but not that unhealthy,” said Phil. “It’s so cool to have a dessert that’s not, like, a ton of ice cream.”

And then there’s this: the Grilled Cheese Dog. No explanation required.


Man, I wish I could have tried this one. But this garlic fries on the side are EXCEPTIONAL. Much crisper than your usual garlic fries, and seasoned to perfection.

Here’s Phil watching the game with the Grilled Cheese Dog, his steadily growing array of food items laid out in front of him.


“The dog is the first thing you notice, but it’s followed by that buttery grilled cheese flavor,” said Phil. “It’s a fun idea.’

Hey! Remember back in 2010, when “Rojo Johnson” made a relief appearance at a Round Rock game? If not:

Rojo is now back at the ballpark, in the form of “Rojo’s Southwestern Hideaway.”



Lots of great gluten-free options here, such as this “Taco Flight” — pork carnitas and chicken verde with shredded romaine, cotija cheese, and cilantro-lime vinaigrette.


In lieu of a written opinion, a picture:

Even better were the nachos, which are some of the best to be found anywhere in Minor League Baseball. Red, white and blue tortilla chips, pork, “Queso Rojo,” jalapeno, pico de gallo, and sour cream.  Things like this represent the best kind of gluten-free ballpark options, in that they are naturally gluten-free as opposed to a compromised consolation prize.


Extreme close-up!


Next up for Phil was the beer shake, available at the Frozensational Tiki Bar. This is a Convict Hill oatmeal stout with vanilla ice cream.


“You’re gonna want a straw with that,” said either Ebert or Kudla (my notes are unclear). “This is not a beer with milk in it, it’s a milkshake with a shot of beer.”

And — yes! — a gluten-free beershake was concocted for me using Redbridge. Cute hair, bro:


By this points most of the concession stands (or, sorry, “storefronts”) were shutting down. But we weren’t done yet. Here, Phil “The Bottomless Pit” Boyd poses with a brisket BBQ plate from the South Side Market (a third party vendor that has a restaurant in Elgin, Texas).


Once again, a picture says more than words ever could.


RS3 has come very strongly out of the gate, and the long-term plan is, as Kudla said “to make it salable and take it elsewhere.” Could the Grilled Cheese Dog be coming soon to a ballpark near you?


Encore presentation

This extensive food tour brought us right through to the end of the game, but it was worth it. The only thing I regret is that Phil and I missed seeing this:

That dude clearly put a little too much herb mayo on his Willie Sandwich.


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