Results tagged ‘ Return to the Road ’

On the Road — July 31 Update

The last time that I had the chance to update this blog, it was July 22 and I was in a La Quinta lobby in downtown Indianapolis. I am currently back home in New York City, steadily cranking out “On the Road” MiLB.com articles, Promo Preview, and, soon, Crooked Numbers. (Hat tip to Bowling Green Hot Rods announcer Andrew Kappes, who just sent me a detailed recap of a recent 2-3-5-4-1-7 putout at home plate.)

Read now or die trying:

On the Road: Akron RubberDucks (the Return of the King and Duck Duck Goose) 

On the Road: West Virginia Power (the Toastman)

On the Road: Columbus Clippers (team historian Joe Santry)

On the Road: Indianapolis Indians and the most popular team Twitter account in the Minors.

On the Road: Louisville Bats and the Art of Keeping Score

But for right now, I’m here to answer the question that no one’s asking: What did you do after leaving the La Quinta on the early afternoon of July 22? Why, I’m glad you didn’t ask! Here’s the answer:

July 22: I drove from Indianapolis to Louisville’s sprawling Galt House Hotel, where I stayed during last September’s Minor League Baseball promo seminar.

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September 2013 file photo

I was in Louisville to attend a Bats game, of course, and the Bats’ home of Louisville Slugger Field is quite close to the hotel. However, while walking to the ballpark in a distracted state (my de facto road trip existence) , I shot right past W. Main Street (where it is located) and walked north about 25 minutes in the wrong direction. These are just the sort of things I seem to do on these road trips.

If you’re walking to Louisville Slugger Field from the Galt House Hotel, and you see the Ahrens Vocational School, then something has gone wrong.

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And, jeez, it was so hot outside — just about the hottest that I have ever been while on one of these trips. I took a walking selfie in an attempt to convey the extent of the heat-related misery.

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I arrived at Louisville Slugger Field much later than intended (a running theme on this trip), but no harm, no foul. Awareness of and interest in my visit was minimal within the Bats front office, and this gave me time to just take a minute and get my bearings. I ended up having a good night for what it was, and, of course, you’ll read all about it here soon enough. Or at least I hope you will.

July 23: I do enjoy staying at the Galt House Hotel. This was the view the next morning from the 21st floor.

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IMG_0077The next day in Louisville was hectic, and I’ll write about it in a separate blog post. But, long story short, I visited both the Louisville Slugger Museum and Skillville Group HQ (home of the Zooperstars! and crew).

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Posing in the bat vault with what I believe was a Chuck Klein model

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I wish I had had time to visit Dan Simon (of logo-designing Studio Simon fame) in Louisville as well. Between him and Louisville Slugger and Skillville and punk-metal atavist Stevo (he’ll appear in a story in the near future), I’ve got a lot of contacts there.

But, yikes, all of this cavorting once again put me in a time crunch. From Louisville it was on to Lexington. Lexington is home of the Legends.

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All will soon be revealed regarding my evening with the Legends. I stayed at the Ramada Inn that night, which kinda seemed stuck in a mid-late ’70s time vortex. The vending machines didn’t have a slot for dollar bills, and the likes of Seals and Crofts were playing in the lobby the next morning.

But, as for that vending machine, I did grip some Grippo’s. As you’ll notice, Grippo is gripping some Grippo’s, who is gripping some Grippo’s, who is gripping some Grippo’s, who is gripping some Grippo’s….on and on until infinity, except there is no such thing as “until” infinity. Only “toward.”

IMG_0084July 24 — After the requisite frantic late morning/early afternoon writing session in the hotel lobby, it was on to Dayton. But first, I stopped for lunch at a Lexington BBQ spot called “Willie’s Locally Known.” This was on the recommendation of West Virginia Power broadcaster Adam Marco, who has been known to blog about such things.

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As you probably know, I have celiac disease and must maintain a gluten-free diet. Therefore, ordering a sandwich was off limits. But the burnt ends — succulent cubes of brisket — they seemed like it would be gluten free (Yes, seemed. I did not have the heart to verify whether or not they were gluten-free, because I really wanted to eat them. It’s hard out there for a celiac, and I try to maintain my self-discipline, but sometimes I error on the side of incaution when it comes to potential gluten in sauces and seasonings and what not.)

Anyway, just look at these things. The best ones were those that had some fat on them, which had the buttery almost bone marrow-like consistency.

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I patronized Willie’s during an early weekday afternoon, and it was empty and quiet. But I got the sense that good things are happening there, as friendly people and good food and live music makes for a great combination. Plus, it was recommended by Adam Marco. One must follow Adam Marco’s recommendations.

After lunch I stopped at a funky shopping center on Leesman Road, in order to make a cameo at Pop’s Re-Sale.

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Pops Resale is a ramshackle palace of used records, old video game systems, DVDs, VHS, vintage clothing, stereo equipment and all sorts of odds and ends. It is much bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside.

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Whipped Cream, Other Delights.

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If you’re in Lexington, I’d definitely recommend checking out this stretch of stores on Leesman Road. I had actually been here in 2004, during my pre-MiLB existence, and bought an awesome dark green work jacket at the Goodwill seen in the below photo. I wish I had had the time to visit there again, as well as Wild Fig. Next time.

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But, per usual, I was running late. Dayton awaited! Dayton is the home of the Dragons.

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That’s the view from a privately-run downtown lot, where I paid $5 to park my rental car. The Dragons’ home of Fifth Third Field is located just beyond and to the right of that warehouse.  (Dayton’s Fifth Third is one of three Fifth Third ballparks in Minor League Baseball. Three Fifth Thirds equal five, for those keeping score at home.)

I spent a total of four hours in Dayton, as immediately after the game ended I drove to Pittsburgh. There were reasons for this. One, I wanted to break up the drive to New York City as opposed to doing it from Dayton in a straight shot, and, two, I always enjoy visiting Pittsburgh. I went to Pitt and, therefore, lived in Pittsburgh from 1997-2002 (in 2001-02 I did a stint in AmeriCorps). Pittsburgh is a great city.

July 25 —  One of Pittsburgh’s best eateries is Dee’s Six Pack and Dogs in Regent Square. Down that hallway lurks a massive walk-in beer cooler, which I occasionally used to visit in my gluten-free days.

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I appreciate that Dee’s is now friendly to the gluten free. This hot dog (topped with Sriracha slaw and sweet potato fries) came wrapped in two corn tortillas. I found this to be better than gluten-free buns, which, like a house of cards, fall apart upon contact.

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Oh, and I visited record stores. Back in my college days, this fine establishment was called Paul’s CDs. One year I was music director at WPTS 92.1, Pitt’s college station, and in that role I was able to spend $35 a week on music to add to rotation. That was awesome.

The eponymous Paul sold the store a few years back, and it is now owned by Karl Hendricks (of the Karl Hendricks Trio) and called Sound Cat. It’s in Pittsburgh’s Bloomfield neighborhood, and I suggest that you go there. I picked up some Michael Hurley and some Nilsson.

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From there it was on Mind Cure in Polish Hill, which opened well after I left Pittsburgh for the less-green pastures of NYC. Seen entering the store is one Mike Rensland, a guy who wore a sleeveless death metal t-shirt to his own wedding reception.

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IMG_0096At Mind Cure I picked up a used Ultrabunny LP as well as a Folkways label curiosity: a dramatization of  the 1855 Murder Trial of William Palmer, Surgeon. Let me know if you want to come over, have a couple drinks, and listen to it.

I wasn’t in town Saturday night, unfortunately, but if you live in Pittsburgh you know that this show has essentially been taking place three times a year for the past 15 years.

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Finally, we have the king of all record stores: Jerry’s. This place is a national treasure. Go there immediately.

IMG_0106 This ground-floor dollar bin alcove is bigger than most proper record stores.

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But upstairs, that’s where the magic happens. Pictures don’t do it justice. There are multiple rooms beyond the main room (include “Whistlin’ Willies” 78 Shop), and those boxes stacked in the back are all 45s.

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That dude on the right in the blue shirt (in conversation with much loved/much hated concert promoter Manny Theiner) is Mike Prosser. Prosser knows more about music, books, and movies than anyone I know. Guys like Prosser tend to live in cities like Pittsburgh.

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I bought a small selection of primo used LPs from Jerry’s, but even cooler is that I finally took home this 100-year-old Victor Talking Machine that I bought there three years ago (I didn’t have a car on that visit, and ended up storing it at a friend’s house). Check it out, this thing is now in my living room!

Anyhow, “On the Road” blog posts — one from each stop on the road trip detailed above and in the previous post — will resume in early August. In the meantime, here’s the itinerary for my fourth and final trip of the season. As always, get in touch with any and all article/cultural suggestions. An asterisk next to the team name means that a designated eater is still needed at that particular location.

August 22 — Batavia Muckdogs*

August 23 — Rochester Red Wings*

August 24 — Jamestown Jammers*

August 25 — Erie SeaWolves*

August 26 — Buffalo Bisons

August 27 — Syracuse Chiefs

August 28 — Auburn Doubledays*

August 29 — Tri-City ValleyCats

August 30 — Hudson Valley Renegades*

August 31 — Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders

The goal is to survive.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: Gems and Craters in the Pacific Northwest

Okay, for real this time: Today’s post marks the last occasion in which I “Return to the Road” in order to write about my 2013 West Coast trip. My next post will include all four of this season’s road trip itineraries, the first of which kicks off on April 28 in Albuquerque.

So where did I leave off?

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Oh, right: In Klamath Falls, Ore., home of the collegiate wood bat league Gems. I arrived in Klamath Falls at the end of a travel day, choosing it as a place to spend the night so that I could visit Crater Lake the next morning before moving on to Hillsboro to check out the Hops. Seeing a baseball game during my brief time in Klamath Falls was not something I planned on doing; in fact, I hadn’t even been aware of the Gems existence until the front desk clerk at the Days Inn alerted me to the fact that a game was going on. While I had been looking forward to a night off from the ballpark routine, seeing the Gems was just too serendipitous of an opportunity to pass up. Kiger Stadium, an all-wood facility constructed in 1948, happened to be locating just across the street from where I was staying!

So, I did what any self-respecting baseball fan would do in such a situation: I hightailed it on over there in order to catch what remained of the ballgame. Kiger, as you can see, delivers a rustic and picturesque baseball environment.

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Kiger Stadium hosted the Far West League Klamath Falls Gems from 1948-51, but since then all of the baseball played there has been of the amateur variety (the Gems are in the West Coast League, comprised of premier collegiate players). From the Kiger Stadium website (which, as you’ll see, hasn’t been updated in a few years):

Kiger Stadium has been far from empty during years since the Far West League. The ballpark has been home to tens of thousands of American Legion, Babe Ruth League, college and high school games through the years. In 2011, Oregon Tech, Mazama High School, the Klamath Falls Falcons and Hawks (American Legion) and local Babe Ruth Baseball teams will call the historic ballpark home.

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I also discovered that the 1951 Gems squad included game show host Bert Convy. This is the picture that accompanies Convoy’s Wikipedia page:

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In addition to hosting Tattletales, Super Password, and Win, Lose or Draw, Convoy was an actor whose myriad roles included sleazeball Glenn Hamilton in the soap opera Love of Live. He also appeared in the in the pilot episode of Murder, She Wrote and directed the Goodspeed Opera House premiere of the musical Zapata (which featured music and lyrics written by Harry Nilsson, one of my all-time heroes).

Before falling down this internet rabbit hole any further, let me get back to the matter at hand: Kiger Stadium, circa 2014.

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The seventh inning stretch was a charming experience, a six-second snippet of which can be viewed HERE (man, I wish I could embed Vine videos on this blog). Once that requisite bit of national pastime tradition was in the books, I moved over to the bleacher seating area located down the first base line.

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Tater the mascot. coming through:

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The existence of Tater tipped me off to the fact that potatoes must be important to Klamath Falls. And, of course, they are. Here’s an overview of the region’s potato history, courtesy of the internet.

I didn’t get any food while I was at Kiger, potatoes or otherwise, and my photos of the concession stand are, unfortunately, non-existent. Kiger is unique, however, in that the concession stand was located indoors, at the end of a hallway.

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Klamath Falls is home to spuds, and it’s also home to bugs. This photo only hints at just how many winged creatures were swarming the lamp posts at the end of the evening.

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This lackluster act of bug documentation was the last thing I did while at Kiger Stadium. With the Gems game in the books, I headed back across the street to the Days Inn and got a good night’s sleep in advance of waking up bright and early in order to visit Crater Lake.

Crater Lake, located about an hour from Klamath Falls, is, to put it simply, the most beautiful place that I have ever visited in my life. Formed within a caldera created by the collapse of a volcano, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in America (nearly 2000 feet) and the water boasts a deep blue color that seems almost otherwordly. I would have loved to have spent several days here, camping, hiking, boating, and taking in the view from the lodge. Instead I had to settle for 90 minutes of idle wandering along the upper perimeter instead. Not ideal, but beggars can’t be choosers.

I don’t have a particularly high quality camera, nor am I a particularly skilled photographer. Crater Lake is just this beautiful:

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The high rollers of south central Oregon travel to Crater Lake in limousines with Mitt Romney bumper stickers and chintzy advertisements emblazoned across the sides.

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Motorcycles are a far more common mode of transportation, however, at least on this particular morning.

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After (reluctantly) leaving Crater Lake, I got lunch at Highway 97’s self-proclaimed best restaurant.

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And then it was on to Hillsboro, home of the Hops. (My time with the Northwest League’s newest entity was chronicled HERE). After a night game and a day game in Hillsboro, the trip (and my 2013 travel in general) came to a conclusion in Portland. I spent one evening there before flying back to New York City, with fellow MLBAM employee Jared Ravech serving as a tour guide. Here I am, blocking the view.

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I had a really fun evening in Portland, but at this point it’s all kind of a blur. Pinball was definitely involved.

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And that — finally! mercifully! — is that. The next post on this blog will contain this season’s road trip itineraries. Here we go again…

(In the meantime, should you be looking for something to read, check out my new book round-up on MiLB.com)

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: Stockton to Reno to Klamath Falls…

Early next week, come hell or high water (but preferably neither), I will reveal my 2014 road trip itineraries. In the meantime I will continue to dip into my seemingly inexhaustible reserve of 2013 road trip content.

Today’s “Return to the Road” segment, fourth in a series, picks up in “Magnificent” Stockton, CA.

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My time in Stockton, at the ballpark or otherwise, has been amply chronicled in previous posts and articles. But before heading on my way to Reno, Nev., I made a stop at Rasputin Music. This is the sort of one-size-fits-all music and movie superstore that weas once quite prevalent around the country, but now going extinct as our media consumption habits move from the physical to the virtual. (In my home of New York City, for example, the Virgin Megastore at Union Square is now a bank, and the iconic E. 4th street Tower Records now houses the MLB Fan Cave. The only establishment of this ilk still holding it down in the Big Apple is J&R Music World.)

I don’t know if Rasputin is still going strong, but it’s still going, and God bless ‘em for it. Perhaps I’m somewhat motivated by nostalgia, but I can’t help spend a little money when I visit establishments such as this.

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My core musical tastes, circa 1989:

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My core musical tastes, circa 1999:

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Cassettes for a quarter:

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Buyer Beware:

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Finally, a gluten-free pop artist:

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All of this is to say: If you still find joy in the act of going to a record store, and find yourself in the Bay Area or Central Valley, then keep an eye out for Rasputin. It’s the kind of place where you can buy Guns N Roses “Spaghetti Incident” for $5 because, hey, why not, it may be a cover album but it’s still Guns N Roses!

(Or at least that was my line of reasoning).

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Soon after leaving Rasputin I spotted this establishment. I should have pulled over and taken a proper picture, but, regardless, old-fashioned bowling alley signage should always be celebrated. (I would have plenty of opportunity to do that the next day, as it turned out.)

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Finally, a brief stop at Stockton’s “Miracle Mile” shopping district.

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From “Magnificent” Stockton it was on to Reno, where I had the misfortune to witness one of the only rainouts in Aces team history. Or did I?

Regardless, I had some time to poke around Reno the next day before showing out for points northwest. The bus station was fairly easy to spot.

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But that wasn’t the only over-sized and out-of-place vehicle in the immediate vicinity. The annual Hot August Nights car show happened to be taking place during the weekend I visited Reno, and this was one of the more notable entities on display.

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Beyond Bigfoot:

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In the midst of all this automotive action, I happened to  notice a most welcome sight.

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Delicious, filling, and (often) gluten-free, Vietnamese is one of my all-time favorite cuisines.

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One of downtown Reno’s more notable (non-gambling related) attractions is the National Bowling Stadium/International Bowling Museum Hall of Fame.

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In case you’ve never ventured to the upper deck of a bowling stadium before…

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The Hall of Fame featured plaques for male bowlers, while women were celebrated via paintings honoring their “superior performance.”

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Also featured: archaic equipment and pop culture detritus.

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Speaking of pop culture detritus, I made one more stop in Reno before leaving town for good. Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

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Randy Newman signage on a building’s exterior is always a positive in my book.

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The interior of Recycled Records included vinyl, cds, and even eight tracks.

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My next, and last, stop on this road trip was Hillsboro, Ore., home of the Hops. I didn’t have to be in Hillsboro until the following evening, however, so I made a plan to drive to Klamath Falls, Ore. so that I could then drive to (relatively) nearby Crater Lake in the morning before heading on to Hillsboro.

I hope that makes sense.

Upon getting out of Reno proper, the landscape changed considerably.

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I can’t tell you where I was, but a stop at this gas station yielded both a Big Hunk and a Pop Shoppe cane sugar root beer.

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Again, I chose Klamath Falls as my destination because of its close proximity to Crater Lake. I had no baseball plans for this particular evening, but while checking into the Days Inn, the clerk asked me what had brought me to this neck of the woods. I replied that I was a baseball writer, and planning to visit Crater Lake in the morning before before driving on to Hillsboro.

“That’s funny,” he replied. “I figured you’d be hear to see the Gems. I think they’re playing right now.”

What?!

Unbeknownst to me, Klamath Falls is home to the collegiate wood bat league Gems, who play at 65-year-old Kiger Stadium. And would you believe that Kiger Stadium was located a five-minute walk from the hotel in which I had elected to spend the night? And that the Gems were indeed playing at that very moment?

I had thought that Klamath Falls would be the one town on this trip in which I didn’t see a baseball game, but, as is so often the case, I thought wrong.

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The next — and last! — post in this series will detail my time in Klamath Falls and Crater Lake. That will really and truly conclude my 2013 road trip content, leading to the unveiling of my 2014 road trip itineraries.

In the meantime, please know that I am aware that the season is underway!

A new Promo Preview appeared today (Tuesday), and will run weekly through the remainder of the season.

– A special ‘Opening Weekend” edition of Crooked Numbers appeared yesterday (Monday), and will run monthly for the remainder of the season.

– And, what’s this? A bold new form of Ben’s Biz “On the Road” content? I’ll have more on this shortly…

There’s a lot going on.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: From One Record Store to Another

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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

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

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

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The on-site diner was similarly retro:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This particular record store was called Spinners. Welcome!

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

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

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

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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World Records was closed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: A Three-Sided Midland Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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

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

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

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

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From the MiLB.com piece:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: Odds and Ends from Southernmost Wisconsin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Goodbye, Beloit — I hardly knew ye!

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

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

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: Ample Opportunities in Appleton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Appleton was the first city with hydroelectric power.

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

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

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

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

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

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A few more peeks through the chain link:

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

The Lawrence University campus is situated along the Fox River…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Our destination was the Stone Cellar Brewpub.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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