Results tagged ‘ Pacific Coast League ’
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.
Boudreaux’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.
In 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.
Eric 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.
Go for it, Eric:
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) July 28, 2015
“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.
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.
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.
While 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.
There 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.
When 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.
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.”
But, 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…
…as was the upper level.
My 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.
Dave 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.
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?
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.”
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.
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.
Soon 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.
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:
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.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 6, 2015
My next (and last) road trip of the year kicks off on Aug. 29 with the Connecticut Tigers. Until then, I sleep.
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:
Your groundbreaking and subversive ballpark joke of the day https://t.co/JRkAjIGPj6
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) May 29, 2015
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.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) May 28, 2015
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) May 29, 2015
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
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.”
But 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.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) December 2, 2014
.@RiverCats It’s more of a symbol than a piece of ownership. If anyone calls dibs it’s the people that first raised the flag in 1846.
— Fresno Grizzlies (@FresnoGrizzlies) December 2, 2014
.@RiverCats History never dies. Let us know if your capital ego wants to claim anything else.
— Fresno Grizzlies (@FresnoGrizzlies) December 2, 2014
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!
Only two weeks until pitchers and catchers report, so we’re showing off our awesome 2015 theme night jerseys: pic.twitter.com/W0a9518NED
— River Cats (@RiverCats) February 4, 2015
— Fresno Grizzlies (@FresnoGrizzlies) February 4, 2015
.@FresnoGrizzlies You’re still mad that we released our California jerseys before you did, huh?
— River Cats (@RiverCats) February 4, 2015
— Fresno Grizzlies (@FresnoGrizzlies) February 4, 2015
— River Cats (@RiverCats) February 4, 2015
— Fresno Grizzlies (@FresnoGrizzlies) February 5, 2015
— River Cats (@RiverCats) February 5, 2015
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:
.@aces River Cats are aquatically inclined felines with extremely flexible necks, developed from looking down at Reno in the standings.
— River Cats (@RiverCats) December 4, 2013
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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 MiLB.com 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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Next up: Dancing Grounds Crew. Surely this would shake you out of your stupor.
Guest-starring as Roof-Man, perhaps?
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).
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.”
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.
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.
We didn’t really know what to do, so we had to call the cops.
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.
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?
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
The scene is different in right field, as there one finds the Truckee River.
To the right of right field, out in the distance, on the horizon, there are mountains.
But as for the more immediate surroundings? Take a look:
Refreshment options abounded, actually.
Outside there were food trucks, or, as nobody calls them: vehicular comestible purveyors.
Upstairs, this was the scene at “Bugsy’s.
“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!
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.”
Bago can be found up here as well, beneath the upper torso of a glowering neon baseball player.
It is rumored, but not confirmed, that this player was modeled after veteran infielder Cody Ransom.
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.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 9, 2013
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:
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.
“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.)
What a beauty this thing is!
Have at it, Brett!
As Brett methodically consumed the above item with grace and aplomb, the situation on the field went from bad to worse.
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.
The concourse, in which elbow room had once been so plentiful, quickly became a mob scene.
Two brave — or would that be insane? — souls stuck it out in the stands.
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.)
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:
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.
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.
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).
Radack and crew, awaiting my reaction:
Thumbs-up, guys! (Seriously, please don’t kill me.)
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.
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.
“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.
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.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 9, 2013
My sentiments exactly, videoboard. My sentiments exactly.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.
But this team employee is not alone among the debris. He’s got these guys to keep him company.
Perhaps the cats know what this vehicle is used for, because none of the humans I talked to had any idea.
And finally, there is this.
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.
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).
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.
Also tied in with the “Farm Grown” initiative is this very cool recurring promo advertised on the concourse.
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.
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.)
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).
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.
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.
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.”
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.
It was also quiet outside of the stadium’s front entrance.
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).
There’s also a carousel outside of the stadium.
Beware! Terror monkey resides therein.
But why focus on primate horror on such a beautiful evening? At this particular moment in space and time the ballpark atmosphere was idyllic.
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.
Jace quickly emerged as the star of the show because, well, Jace really liked this giant hot dog.
“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.
Have at it, guys.
Attacking the Dinger Dog Fresno Grizzlies https://t.co/eFJgdj5hqA
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 6, 2013
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.
At this late juncture in the ballgame the player’s headshots had morphed into an advertisement for California’s premier fast food establishment.
And speaking of Animal Style, Chris and I soon found ourselves under attack.
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.
Would you believe that Parker has his own desk? It’s true, and it’s easy to tell which one is his.
One of these things is not like the other. Fresno Grizzlies https://t.co/GGkwM89lYv
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 6, 2013
Fun is guaranteed, and brainstorming encouraged.
With 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.
My 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.
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.