Results tagged ‘ Return to the Road ’

Return to the Road: Restricted Diets, Restricted Access, and the Godfather of Soul

One more time, with feeling!

In other words, it’s time for November’s third and final “Return to the Road” installment, in which I highlight that which was experienced above and beyond the ballpark during my road trip travels.  The first post covered May 8 and 9th in Bowling Green and Nashville, and part two involved the events of May 10th and 11th in Nashville, the Smoky Mountains, and Asheville. Which brings us to, yes, May 12th.

I woke up early in Asheville on this fine Sunday morning, after attending a Tourists game the night before that was eventually covered HERE, HERE, and HERE. (Thirsty Thursday origin story!)  I woke up so early, in fact, that I forgot to do the obligatory road trip hotel room review and thus had to improvise.

The inability to “Sleep Inn” was because my next destination, Savannah, GA, was over four hours away and I was scheduled to attend a Sand Gnats Mother’s Day matinee at Grayson Stadium that began at 2 o’clock. The only documentation that I possess of this journey is this rather underwhelming photo of Talmadge Memorial Bridge.

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Underwhelming photo, perhaps, but the bridge is anything but. Named after Georgia governor Eugene Talmadge, it connects downtown Savannah with Hutchinson Island and spans a distance of two miles. The Talmadge is  imposing and picturesque, and it makes one’s entryway into Savannah proper a truly memorable experience. It astounds me, however, that what is surely the most iconic structure in a city with a majority black population is named after a politician who viciously and unapologetically espoused racial hatred and exploited racial tensions.

There’s really no way to smoothly segue from the above sentence, so I’m not even going to try. I crossed the bridge, attended the Sand Gnats game (read all about it HERE! And HERE!), and after the game found myself in a bit of a quandary in that was early evening on Mother’s Day — not exactly the best time for a  traveling gluten-free Minor League Baseball writer to do a bit of exploring and socializing. Savannah’s waterfront downtown area was packed, and I simply drove along the cobblestone streets at about one mile an hour with absolutely no idea regarding what it was that I was looking to accomplish. I snaped a few underwhelming photos out of the driver’s side window and then got out of Dodge as quickly as I could.

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My lack of a plan and general feelings of alienation from the scene around me put me in a grumpy frame of mind.

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So I did what I always do in these situations: went to a diner, ordered steak and eggs, and then brought a stash of pork cracklins and Mello Yello back to my hotel room to serve as writing fuel. It was a beautiful night.

But frustration continued to follow me the next day, eventually catching up with me somewhere between Savannah and my next destination of Augusta. My problem was that it was lunch time and in the breaded and fried deep South it can be difficult to stay true to the gluten-free diet that a battery of medical professionals have insisted that I follow.

I was hungry and not seeing many viable options along whatever lonely stretch of road that I was on,  so when I spotted a sign advertising one “Bay South” restaurant I figured I may as well roll the dice and give it a try.  At the very least I’d be supporting a humble local business as opposed to a monolithic chain entity doing its part to further exacerbate America’s descent into corporatized homogeneity, and that’s half the battle right there.

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The restaurant didn’t have a menu, just a small board listing the day’s specials. I was hungry, and as a stranger in a strange land I was feeling a little self-conscious and didn’t really want to give the waitress a spiel regarding my dietary needs. I simply ordered the pork chop special with field peas and stewed tomatoes and hoped for the best. This is the platter that soon arrived:

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Don’t get me wrong — that’s a good looking plate of food, and in my pre-gluten free days I would have devoured it without a second thought. But that pork chop was heavily breaded, the peas were in a thick sauce that likely used flour as a thickener, and bread crumbs were mixed in with the tomatoes. The piece de resistance in this fete de gluten was the cornbread, which is to the South what pickles are to a Jewish deli.

“I made my bed, now I’ve got to lie in it,” was the thought that went through my head, so I went ahead and ate the whole plate of food. And, no surprise, it was delicious. I experienced no side effects from this major diet deviation, as I am an asymptomatic (or “silent”) celiac. It’s weird — in a way I almost wish I had symptoms, because the debilitating short-term side effects of eating gluten would serve as a safeguard against the long-term bodily damage that occurs as a result of “cheating” episodes along the lines of that detailed above (which I really don’t do very often at all).

But enough gnashing of teeth, as tautologically speaking celiac disease simply is what it is. I’m just trying to articulate the tortured mental gymnastics that accompany most restaurant meals these days, as these minor setbacks within a life of immense privilege really take a lot out of a guy!

And speaking of immense privilege, the next stop on my itinerary was none other than this esteemed locale.

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I arrived at this legendary expanse of greenery  with one Chad Walters, an Augusta resident and founder of Lean Blitz Consulting (who served as Designated Eater at that night’s GreenJackets game). Chad kindly spotted me a set of clubs, and I strode toward the entrance gate all like “Oh, no big deal, I’m here every day.”

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I’ve actually never played golf in my life, and in one of the most predictable outcomes of all time I was turned away by a guard who denied Chad’s requests to take a picture. Whatever lurked beyond this road way was going to remain a mystery.

013 I sat dejectedly by the curb for the next 110 minutes, thinking about how this had been the first day of my life that had included both celiac disease snafus and country club exclusion.

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Desultory contemplation complete, this Augusta excursion ended with a walk down the surprisingly pedestrian (but not pedestrian friendly) pathway that separates Augusta from the strip mall homogeneity that surrounds it.

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Fortunately, Chad had one more Augusta landmark to show me and this one was far more accessible. We drove into downtown proper and, after taking advantage of the ample parking opportunities, made our way to this location.

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Yes, that James Brown. The Godfather of Soul! Presiding over all that he sees!

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Brown was not an Augusta native, but he did spend his formative years here. Per the plaque that resides at the base of the structure, Brown “has called Augusta ‘home’ since moving here when he was five. It was in Augusta’s Lenox Theatre that he first received recognition for his talent by winning an amateur contest.”

Perhaps the James Brown’s of tomorrow are honing their chops at downtown Savannah’s I-3000 Club, although the focus there seemed to be more on adult entertainment.

025At the very least, one can obtain some James Brown recordings at nearby Pyramid Music.

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After that it was goodbye downtown Augusta and hello GreenJackets. (I wrote about that ballgame HERE and HERE, as I am wont to do.) The next day it was on to Birmingham,  where I closed out this trip by attending two games at the Barons’ new home of Regions Field. (Check it out, if you are wont to do such a thing.)  My time in Birmingham yielded two blog posts and two MiLB.com features, virtually exhausting all of my Dream City content, so all that I have left to share is this: before leaving for the airport, I stopped for a meal at the Birmingham BBQ institution that is Dreamland BBQ. 

I patronized the 14th Avenue South location, which is located in a rather residential area.

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The majority of the patrons on this Tuesday afternoon were sitting in the booths…

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but given my lonely traveler status I opted for a seat at the bar and promptly ordered a half slab of ribs. They were delectable (and gluten-free).

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During the meal I made small talk with the bartender, who turned out to be the younger brother of outfielder Josh Phelps (now retired). This minor but nonetheless interesting baseball-related happenstance marked the conclusion of this particular road trip, as from Dreamland I went straight to the airport. I am happy to report that the boiled peanuts made it home safely. 

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: A Tourist Within the Realm of the Tourists

Welcome to the second 2013 installment of “Return to the Road,” in which I highlight that which was experienced above and beyond the ballparks during my road trip travels. Part one covered May 8 and 9 in Bowling Green and Nashville, and today’s post picks up in the early afternoon of Friday, May 10th. I had attended the previous night’s Sounds game at Nashville’s Greer Stadium — read about that HERE — and upon checking out of the hotel (complete with Road Trip Hotel Room Review #2) I made my way back to the area surrounding the ballpark.

My destination was Gabby’s Burgers, an unassuming but very well-regarded burger joint located the proverbial hop, skip, and jump away from Greer.

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The above photo was taken as I was leaving Gabby’s, but when I arrived there was a line that snaked all the way out of the door. It was hard to take pictures within such a cramped environment, but this more or less conveys what the scene was like inside.

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As many of you know, a celiac disease diagnosis has forced me to adapt to a gluten-free diet. Ultra-specific fast food establishments such as Gabby’s can sometimes be difficult to navigate, but I had been informed the previous evening that they did in fact offer a “jazz style” burger in which the bun was replaced with lettuce. Not ideal, perhaps, but perfectly acceptable! I ordered a “Seamus burger, jazz-style” and then snagged a seat at the counter. About 10 minutes later, this arrived.

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I’m writing this six months after the fact, so perhaps my adjectival command is not what it might have been, but I can say without equivocation that this burger was STUPENDOUS, easily one of the top three that I’ve ever had in my life. If you’re in Nashville, and especially if you’re in the vicinity of Greer Stadium, then you owe it to yourself to make a visit.

Greer Stadium’s iconic guitar scoreboard can be seen from the Gabby’s parking lot, and a record pressing plant (!) is located just down the street as well. Burgers, baseball, and vinyl — what more could you want from life? (Well, actually, I can immediately think of a few other things.) But all good things must come to an end, even if they come in threes, and soon enough I was off to Kodak (or would that be Sevierville?), home of the Tennessee Smokies. My journey was not without its miscues, as you may recall from my Smokies’ “On the Road” post:

I arrived at Smokies Park a bit later than I was aiming for, due to a GPS/common sense snafu in which I drove to a “Stadium Drive” in Knoxville instead of the one in Sevierville. It wasn’t until I made a turn onto “Peyton Manning Pass” that it occurred to me that I may have driven to the University of Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium instead.

This, perhaps, was not my finest moment. But I was nonetheless in good spirits when I arrived at the Hampton Inn. You can see the ballpark from the stadium!

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I wrote all about my visit with the Smokies, HERE and HERE and HERE. The next morning I posted Road Trip Hotel Room Review #3, and then embarked upon the long and winding mountain drive to Asheville. Upon arriving I found myself with about two hours of free time, and I decided to make the most of it by doing what I do best: wandering the downtown area in search of independent record stores. In Asheville, a city that prides itself on its cultural eclecticism and general open-mindedness, it didn’t take long to find one.

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Static Age was a bit dungeon-esque, but it didn’t make me crabby. They had a bunch of Record Store Day stuff that had long become unavailable in New York City, and I was glad to snag Mercury Rev’s “Deserted Songs” as well as a free Sub Pop sampler (they also still had limited edition Bardo Pond and Mugstar releases and in my head I was like “Yo, Asheville heavy psych bros, you gotta get on that.”)

After leaving Static Age I soon came across Voltage Records.

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While combing through the stacks at Voltage, I looked up and saw a most familiar site. I had this poster hanging in my bedroom, circa 1996.

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Downtown Asheville was bustling on this Saturday afternoon, and despite what some of these pictures may convey it was truly a vibrant and spirited atmosphere.

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Downtown also boasts this iconic art deco beauty, the S & W Cafeteria.

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S & W was a chain restaurant that served inexpensive (but presumably delicious) Southern cooking. The Asheville location was open from 1929-74, and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. For better or for worse, it is currently being renovated into condominiums.

Interior-wise, the most physically impressive establishment that I visited was the Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar. This multi-level book store is well organized and offers plenty of comfortable nooks and crannies to sit and drink coffee, wine, and yes, champagne. It’d be a great place to hang out for an hour or two, but, as is often the case on these trips, I just didn’t have the time. And, as is also so often the case, my pictures do not do it justice.

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Back outside and once again wandering about, I soon noticed that one of these things is indeed not like the other.

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I was not in the market for a red, white, and blue bandanna, but I was in the market to visit another bookstore. I always am. Here’s some interior shots of the plainly named and plainly awesome Downtown News.

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Perhaps the best thing about Downtown News was their exemplary (maga)zine selection.

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Arthur is currently my favorite magazine and if over the course of reading this blog you’ve found that your sensibilities are similar to mine then please take the time to check it out (I also copped that Mojo with Sabbath on the cover).

022I of course realize that there is far more to Asheville than its book and record stores, but given a limited amount of time that’s what I chose to focus on and I hope you were able to pick up on at least a little bit of what I was putting down.

I’ll end with a total non-sequitur, as I have one other photo in this particular road trip folder that is totally out of context. I imagine that this is something that I stumbled upon at a gas station somewhere between the Smoky Mountains and Asheville, but certainly it is not something that I have seen before or since. The object of this game was to use a joystick to control a pair of scissors that could then cut the string holding one of two prizes: a Nikon camera and a wad of money. I don’t remember operating this ridiculous contraption, but if I did I failed.

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And with that, I have no more outside-of-the-ballpark detritus to share from what were my third and fourth days of 2013’s “Southern Swing.” Thanks, as always, for sticking with me.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: Nashville, Bowling Green, and Points In-Between

With quasi-arbitrary personal and professional milestones firmly in the rear view mirror, it’s now time to move confidently into the future by dwelling in the past. In other words, it’s time to Return to the Road! Some of you may be familiar with the “Return to the Road” concept, but for those who aren’t:

Each season I go on several Minor League Baseball road trips, documenting the ballpark experience as thoroughly as I am able. But, of course, part of the beauty of this sort of road trip is that it gives gives one the opportunity to explore not just the ballpark but the city itself. And that’s simply what these 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. (Even if it wasn’t much — I’m on a tight schedule!)

2013’s slate of peregrinations began with May’s Southern Swing trip, with stop #1 being in Bowling Green. I attended May 8’s Hot Rods game, and the next morning, after recording the first of what would become several dozen “Road Trip Hotel Room Reviews,” I was able to explore Bowling Green’s downtown area (located the proverbial “hop, skip, and a jump” away from the stadium). The focal point of downtown is “Fountain Square Park,” which is ripped straight out of Norman Rockwell’s America.

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Per the Bowling Green Convention and Visitor’s Bureau:

Restored facades of 19th-century buildings, a renovated Art Deco movie theater, thriving businesses and bustling professionals surround the park’s historic fountain, statues, flowers, shrubs, mature trees and benches. Once the site of prohibitionist marches, trolleys, livestock trades and scrap drives, today it is the host of summer concerts, parades, arts and crafts shows and many other festivals and events throughout the year.

Here’s what I saw on a sleepy afternoon in early May, beginning with the titular fountain:

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But not all of downtown Bowling Green was as genteel as the images seen above. Here’s Rocky’s Bar, located at 322 E. Main Street.

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Inebriates in the know know to order Gorilla’s Blood.

Unfortunately, that little spot of downtown wandering was about all that I had time for whilst in Bowling Green. I was listening to local country radio as I drove out of the city, and would you believe that Lee Greenwood was playing at the exact moment at which I passed the Greenwood Mall? It’s true. My notes also indicate that I heard George Strait and Alan Jackson’s “Murder on Music Row” as well, and that this song is “a much-needed corrective to condescending schlock.”

I can’t tell you where I was, exactly, but about an hour or so later I drove by this establishment and immediately did a u-turn so that I could photograph it. This, to me, is beauty incarnate:

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Of course, one of the best things about trips such as these is stopping at kitschy rest stops for gas/food/totally unnecessary and irredeemably tacky but nonetheless irresistible souvenirs.

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At Sad Sam’s, one is greeted by this statue. It is as vividly rendered as it is culturally insensitive.

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This guy is a behemoth!

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I limited myself to three items while at Sad Sam’s: An “anti-snoring” contraption consisting of a small clothespin in a wooden box (sadly not pictured), a can of boiled peanuts and the bizarrely wax-like peanut patty.

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Out in the parking lot of Sad Sam’s an older gentlemen with greased-hair and a pack of Pall Malls in his breast pocket struck up a conversation with me. He was curious as to whether I liked the Kia I was driving (my rental car), and when I replied that it was adequate but unremarkable he told me that he bought an “alien green” Kia for his wife.

“She likes it, but I’m a retired auto worker,” he told me. “If I drove it to our union meetings everyone would make fun of me.”

And with that, it was on to Nashville. En route to Greer Stadium, home of the Sounds, I was able to make a brief detour at Grimey’s. Behind this humble domestic facade lurks one of the best-regarded record stores in the city.

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I enjoyed browsing the stacks — both at Grimey’s and its next-door “Grimey’s Too” location — and ended up purchasing three new 7″ records (two of which were on Nashville’s Third Man record label), a couple of used LPs, and the awesome issue of Juxtapoz that was dedicated to the visual aesthetic of the Beastie Boys.  My notes also indicate that the Fiery Furnaces cover of “Single Again” was playing in the store and that I “should get that.”

Grimey’s Too:

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Grimey’s was very close to Greer Stadium, and my next stop was even closer: Fort Negley, a Union fortification built during the Civil War, is located adjacent to the ballpark.

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Greer Stadium is actually visible from the base of Fort Negley.

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I’m going to go out on a limb and declare this to be the only guitar-shaped scoreboard that is visible from a National Historic Landmark.

033I wandered about the fort for a half hour or so, but unfortunately these are the only photos that have survived my travails.

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And from there, it was off to the ballgame. As I noted at the time, the Sounds were expecting me.

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You can read all about my night with the Sounds by clicking HERE, but as for this particular post this is all I’ve got. I’ll close by noting that I have a pork cracklin addiction, and had to ration myself to one bag for every day that I was on this road trip. Nothing like pulling a blogging all-nighter in a hotel while eating a bag of Golden Flakes and drinking Mello-Yello!

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Thanks for “returning to the road” with me. Post #1001 is now complete.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: Finally, for Real This Time, the Road Ends in Vancouver

Well, this is it: after today’s post I am officially out of 2012 in-season content. Be it content supplied by teams or content that I garnered myself while on the road, there just isn’t any more of it left. The next post, whatever it may be, will be covering that which has occurred since the cessation of on-field play.

At this juncture, it would be appropriate to let out a long, terrified scream. I’ll wait.

All that I’ve got left to share is this: an account of my final moments in Vancouver before flying back to the United States. Upon the conclusion of Friday’s “Nooner at the Nat” I had about five hours of free time, and no real idea what to do. And then inspiration struck — I’d hang out aimlessly! So I drove through downtown Vancouver at a snail’s pace (or whatever “snail’s pace” converts to in the metric system) until reaching the glorious swath of public space that is Stanley Park.

This park is huge — larger than Central Park (my most immediate reference point) and boasting approximately 120 miles of roads and trails. Its namesake is Lord Stanley, former Governor General of Canada and, also, the man for whom the Stanley Cup is named.

Lord Stanley sez: “To the use and enjoyment of people of all colours (sic) creeds and customs for all time I name thee STANLEY PARK.”

I’m not really sure where in the park I was. I was just there, and that was the point.

This monument is in honor of the 190 Canadian soldiers of Japanese ancestry who lost their lives in World War I.

This, meanwhile, is a tree.

Water, water everywhere.

Lord Stanley wasn’t the only statue-esque acquaintance I made out there in the park. Here’s one of Robert Burns, “Scotland’s National Bard.”

The plaque reads, in part: “Robert Burns’s sincere desire for friendship and brotherhood among all peoples is clearly shown in his many poems and songs. His poetry and letters, both serious and humorous are worthy of study by those who value liberty and freedom.”

I eventually wandered to the park’s perimeter, which provided a view of the high-rises lurking just beyond the water.

I eventually wandered out of the park altogether, drawn in part by a desire to commune with this public art installation.

These jovial lads of identical height, girth and facial composition could be found at the end of Denman Street. As I had never spent time on a street named “Denman,” ever, in any city, I decided to see what it had to offer. The short answer is that Denman Street had a lot of restaurants, dozens and dozens of them, over the course of many blocks. I was up for a meal, no doubt, but the combination of my gluten-free specifications and being solo on a Friday evening led me to rule out many of the contenders. (Talk about a familiar feeling…)

This DIY establishment certainly looked intriguing…

but in the end how I could I go with anything but the Number One option?

Look…this whole celiac disease thing can be a drag, no doubt, but at the end of the day there are still plenty of options. Within 20 minutes, this wonderful plate of food was presented to me by a personable waitress who I may one day marry or, more likely, will never see again.

Vietnamese pork chops = one of the best dishes on the planet. And anytime a crispy fried egg is part of the entree equation, quality quotient only increases. As for a beverage, I was immediately intrigued by an option going by the name of “Coco-Rico.” When I asked the waitress what it was, she explained that it was a coconut soda.

“A lot of people ask about about it, only the adventurous ones try it,” she said.

As a lover of coconut, adventure and waitresses, I ordered it without delay!

After going number one at Number One (the door in the bathroom said “Door locks automatically :) (So don’t worry!)”), it was time for my final act as a visitor in the beautiful, seemingly utopian city of Vancouver: more loitering! This time, the location was English Bay Beach Park.

The Bowling Green Cave Shrimp goes international!

I remained on the beach until the sun went down, reading A Prayer for Owen Meany and contemplating scenarios that could result in me starting a new life in Vancouver (very few of these scenarios involved murder, I’m happy to report).

Somehow, I was able to make it from the beach to the wilderness of Stanley Park where my rental car was located.

And that, finally, for real this time, is all I’ve got. The road had reached its nadir. After a long stint of overnight travel I made it safely back to Brooklyn, where, as usual, a very reliable individual was waiting for me.

There’s nothing left to do now but start brainstorming 2013’s slate of Minor League journeys. Please get in touch should you have any suggestions in that regard and — hey! — I really (really, really) hope you enjoyed all of the content that I was able to squeeze out of the 2012 season. This is all a work in progress, as always, but I do my best. Thanks for reading — now it’s time to batten down the hatches here in NYC as Sandy, purported to be the storm of the century, bears down upon us. Good luck, and Godspeed.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: A Nooner in Vancouver

The blog post that chronicled my evening with the Vancouver Canadians was the longest such missive in Ben’s Biz history, but that doesn’t mean that I exhausted all of my Vancouver content. Of course not! The game I attended was on a Thursday evening, and I wasn’t due to fly out of the city until Friday night.

And wouldn’t you know it? On Friday afternoon the Canadians were hosting one of their popular “Nooner at the Nat” day games, so back to the stadium I went. Except this time, I opted to stow my vehicle in the public park located across the street. My thinking was that this would start the day off with a different perspective, and as always my thinking was correct.

Queen Elizabeth Park is located at quite a prodigious elevation, and as such it offers some spectacular mountain and city views.

The park’s parking lot is located a proverbial hop, skip, and a jump from the domed glory of the Bloedel Conservatory.

Among those enjoying the view from the top of the park was this bronzed family — note that brother and sister (or at least I presume they are brother and sister) are both wearing vintage Great Adventure shirts.

Smile!

I was sorry to leave my statue-esque acquaintances, but baseball was calling my name (in a shrill, unnecessarily loud falsetto). As I walked down the hill and toward Nat Bailey Stadium, I came across a species of tree which may or may not be indigenous to the wilds of Vancouver. This tree was getting a kick out of using its snout-like appendages to tickle the undercarriages of unsuspecting passersby, but when it tried that on me I was ready with a swift uppercut and it shrank away in defeat.

Back on the street, cars were lined up at the stadium entrance. Vancouverites are serious about their Friday afternoon baseball!

However, I soon realized that “Nooners at the Nat,” while a great name, is a bit misleading. Gates open at noon, yes, but the game doesn’t start until one. It was around 12:30 when I arrived on the scene, and no tickets whatsoever were available. Just read the sign!

I mingled with the masses for bit, in the hopes that someone would recognize me and that I could then claim to be “internationally famous.” But, no, it was not to be. (I remain only nationally famous, and by “nationally famous” I mean recognized at a bar this one time and by a concert merch table this one other time). With delusions of grandeur squashed, as they quite mercifully always are, I made my way into the stadium in time for the National Anthems (this is Canada, after all). Performing both anthems was a group called the “Altar Boyz,” and as one of the groundskeepers near me noted “That’s Altar Boyz with a zed.”

As you may recall, my experience at the previous day’s Canadians game had provided some quite memorable food experiences (in the form of an oversized corn dog and an even more oversized “Fungo Dog,” click on the link at the top of this post to read all about it). But this time around, I was interested in trying some ballpark sushi.

While not at the standards one would expect from one of Vancouver’s many fine sushi restaurants, this was still a tasty and unique ballpark meal. The Fuji Combo on the left consisted of two California rolls, two spicy California rolls, two shrimp nigiri, and one smoked salmon. The Red Dragon Roll, meanwhile, was salmon, seaweed, crab extract (not sure what that means), and cucumber.

Oh, and this marked the first time I’d ever had ginger and wasabi in single-serve condiment packets. What a life milestone.

New online dating profile pic:

Thumbs up for the best sushi in the Northwest League!

It was a beautiful day. The game? It was underway

As I had done the evening before, I then hitched a ride in the Smart Car for a lap around the infield.

I filmed said lap around the field with my handy FlipCam, but you know what? It just didn’t come out very well. So, nevermind. Let’s move on.

The Canadians’ dancing grounds crew, whom I had performed with the night before, are bonafide Vancouver celebrities. By the time I returned from my Smart Car journey, they were engaged in an interview with a national sports broadcast (who would later film their dance performance as well).

At this point in the afternoon, I was feeling good. The previous evening’s ballgame had provided me with all of the content I would need from Vancouver (and more), so there was nothing that I felt I HAD to do. I just took in the scene.

Much of the sold-out crowd was lurking in the shadows.

The evening before I had been a Sushi Race competitor. This time around I just took it all in from the cheap seats.

I then adjourned to an even more elevated vantage point: the roof.

On the roof is where the press box is situated, and its denizens were hard at work.

Did I mention that it was a beautiful day, and that Vancouver is a stunningly beautiful city?

Vancouver is also filled with stunningly beautiful dancers — of both the grounds crew and dugout Chicken Dance variety.

I eventually clambered down from the roof, in order to procure a new vantage point from which to snap a photo.

The Canadians bullpen is located down the third base line, and there is no escape from the fans whatsoever (note the standard-issue pink backpack down there by the catcher’s knee).


Unceremoniously and without warning, my “Nooner at the Nat” photos ended here. The above shot of a brooding bullpen observer is the last picture from a ballfield that I am able to post from the 2012 season.

Upon the conclusion of the contest, I returned to the manicured splendor of Queen Elizabeth Park.

And…scene! But would you believe that I have one more post’s worth of material to share from Vancouver? It’s true! Just one more, and then my 2012 road trip content is finally, officially, mercifully, complete Thanks for tolerating my continued attempts to milk it for all it’s worth.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: Glass Menageries and Roadside Reverie

The last “Return to the Road” dispatch ended with some pictures from what I declared to be the swankiest team lodging in all of Minor League Baseball — Tacoma’s Hotel Murano. And from the Murano this post shall begin.

The Murano’s hallways offer guests the chance to view a “private collection of some of the world’s finest contemporary glass treasures.” Each of the hotel’s 24 floors showcase a different artist; I, on the 23rd, was located within the realm of Mr. Hiroshi Yamano.

The Murano’s focus on glass artisans was no mere act of random whimsy — Tacoma is home to the Museum of Glass, in recognition of the influence that artists from the Pacific Northwest have had on the medium. So when I set out to briefly explore downtown Tacoma before heading to Everett, the Museum of Glass was my destination.

Along the way I passed this statue, without stopping to learn who this woman was and what she stood for.

Union Station — formerly a train station, currently a courthouse — had charm, style and panache to spare.

As did the statue out front, entitled “New Beginnings.” It was installed as part of the city’s 1984 centennial celebration, and the man depicted is an early 20th-century railroad passenger with a jaunty step and optimistic world outlook.

Inspired, I strolled through Tacoma’s downtown with the same levity of spirit I imagined the above bronzed passenger to have once possessed.

Finally (and by “finally” I mean “within 5 minutes”) I came to a vantage point which included the conical Museum of Glass as part of the backdrop.

Of course, time is always at a premium when I’m on the road. So as opposed to actually going into the museum, I just checked out the glass specimens lining both sides of a pedestrian bridge that led to the museum.

For tobacco use only

The view from the ground.

Anti-climactic as it may be, that’s all I’ve got from Tacoma. My next destination was Everett, whose team hotel was a Holiday Inn.

I knew I was in the right place when, upon parking, I looked up to see a team bus poking through the trees.

And while this Holiday Inn lacked some of the Hotel Murano’s more memorable amenities (for instance, I was not able to have the Bhagavad Gita delivered to my room), it did boast what is certainly the most wonderful view of any Minor League team hotel.

I attended that evening’s Everett AquaSox game, and wrote like crazy all about it. (In fact, my writing was so passionately incendiary that even the links to it have since burned up.) Time was even tighter than usual the following afternoon, as an international journey (to Vancouver) awaited me. Nonetheless, I spent about an hour wandering about in downtown Everett before getting lunch at a Thai restaurant and then resuming my travels in earnest.

Everett had character, and I’d love to return some day.

Lunchtime! (Use of exclamation mark extremely debatable)

After that it was goodbye to the antiquated signage of Everett…

and hello to Peace Arch National Park, my entryway to Canada.

Think metric? Never!

The cars going in the other direction were fleeing Canadian tyranny

Peace Arch Park was beautifully maintained, and as a big fan of Paul Robeson I enjoyed driving through the locations of one of his most significant public performances. From Wikipedia:

In 1952, African-American singer and activist Paul Robeson, banned from international travel during the Red Scares, performed several concerts at the site. He sang from a flatbed truck on the American side to an audience in Canada.

And would you believe that the Peace Arch was built by Sam Hill, the peripatetic Quaker who constructed the full-size Stonehenge replica which I had visited several days prior? That guy was real go-getter, and as a slow-moving and rapidly-stagnating blogger I can’t help but feel that I’m not quite living up to the high surname standards he established.

Stalled out

It took approximately forever to get into Canada, and I pity those who have to cross the border on a regular basis. I did enjoy the interrogation I received from the border guard, who tried to poke holes in my “Minor League Baseball writer traveling to Canada in order to cover the Vancouver Canadians” alibi.

Guard: And how long have you been writing about the Minor Leagues?

Me: Seven years.

Guard: If you’ve been doing this for that long, then why is this the first time you’ve visited Vancouver?

I explained, as succinctly as possible, that Vancouver was the only Canadian team in the Minors and that, therefore, visiting Canada as part of my job was not, nor was it going to be, a common professional occurrence. (In fact, I was looking at it the highlight of a perpetually uncertain odyssey that began with writing game recaps on the night shift on a part-time, hourly basis. What I wanted to say was “Look, lady, you should be proud of me that I’m here talking to you at all.” I then would have felt an overwhelming sense of guilt for referring to her impolitely as “lady.”)

I’m not sure who’s bored-er at this point — the guard or the straggling few readers who have stuck with this post to the end. So, anyway, yeah: I made it to Canada, and I have the fake money to prove it.

The road will be returned to (at least) once more, with all of the supplemental content that’s fit to post from the wilds of Vancouver. Stay tuned for another installment of the most low-stakes and meandering series of blog posts to be found on the internet…

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: Compromised Fast Food Leads to a Spiritual Menu

I was out of town for the last five days or so, and during my time away the fifth anniversary of the first post in Ben’s Biz Blog history came and went. My original plan had been to commemorate this milestone in some way, but instead it just kind of slipped by whilst on its quick path to complete and total obsolescence.

So, yeah, this blog is now five years old. Celebrate at will. As for me, I’ll just do what I do best: relive the recent past! As you may recall, my last post in the apparently never-ending “Return to the Road” series covered the beautiful scenery to be found betwixt Salem, OR and Yakima, WA. Today, then, picks up in Yakima (home of the since-relocated Bears) and travels northwest to Tacoma (home of the not-going-anywhere Rainiers).

The day started with me following a reader tip: get lunch at Miner’s, an iconic Yakima fast food joint.

I was smitten with this establishment as soon as I arrived, if not a bit confused. Somehow, I managed to bypass the entire drive-thru lane. (And is that a strange location for a house or what? Not sure if I’d want my front lawn obscured by huge fast food menus).

Instead, I ended up in a lot immediately adjacent to a spacious outdoor eating area.

Also spacious: the inside.

I placed my order, was given a number, and then walked approximately a third of a mile away to a back room seating area.

And here, inevitably, is where I end up disappointing you. As much as I’d have liked to, the celiac disease prevented me from ordering a Big Miner Burger. Or any kind of burger. In fact, the bun-heavy and oft-breaded menu made the whole experience a bit fraught for gluten-averse individuals such as myself. So while I’d like to present you with a photo of this 64-year-old establishment’s signature item, instead here are some fries posing amidst an array of dipping sauces and a vanilla milkshake. I do my best.

After that it was time to hit the open road. And I do mean open, and I also mean road.

I would have been content to drive amid such vast expanses for a good 10 hours or so, while listening to the first 33 seconds of this Dr. John song a million times over. The drive was far less than my wished-for 600 minutes, unfortunately, but before re-entering more populated areas I did have the pleasure of stopping at this well-advertised establishment.

And — look! — within this vast expanse of commercial real estate they even cater to afflicted souls such as myself.

I bought an array of groceries. The bottle of Moxie cola was later confiscated at the Vancouver airport, and I have no idea what became of the mustard. None at all. It just vanished on me.

The next destination was the Hotel Murano, located in downtown Tacoma. Of the dozens of Minor League team hotels I’ve stayed in over the last several years this was the most expensive. And also, by far, the nicest. (In fact, I’m still kind of in awe that this was a team hotel.)

The Hotel Murano had an uber-hip intercontinental vibe, complete with Teutonic dance music music pumping in the lobby, but it wasn’t not so exclusive that they won’t enter into an enthusiastic partnership with a Pacific Coast League franchise. (Hotel Murano ads could be seen throughout the Rainiers’ Cheney Stadium).

The nighttime exterior:

The lobby:

A room…

with a view.

Hello Tacoma!

I’m still kicking myself for not having the Bhagavad Gita sent up to my room.

Some of the other in-room signage was less spiritually minded, however.

“Goodnight Tacoma!” said the moron in the Murano.

That moron was me.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: Nothing but the Scenic Route in the Pacific Northwest

The Pacific Northwest is a beautiful part of the country. So when I went on a road trip to that region at the end of the season, this was something that was written in all caps in my notebook to-do list: EXPERIENCE BEAUTY.

Of course, time is tight when I’m on the road and often the most beautiful thing I see over the course of a given 24-hour period is a particularly well-constructed plate of nachos. But this was most emphatically NOT the case on the third day of this Pacific Northwest road trip. The day began in Salem, Ore. at which point I had to drive about four and a half hours northwest to Yakima. And this drive, it was absolutely gorgeous!

I opted to travel along the Historic Columbia River Highway (scenery over expediency!), and shortly into the journey I arrived at Vista House.

The Vista House was built in 1918, as both a rest stop and pioneer memorial. An informational plaque located outside of the building says that “Samuel C. Lancaster, design engineer of the Historic Columbia River Highway, envisioned this outcropping as the ideal site for a rest stop and observatory where the Gorge ‘could be viewed in silent communion with the infinite.'”

I realize that America in 1918 was far from an ideal society, but sentiments such as that are phenomenal and indicative of a spiritually-informed progressive public mindedness that seems to be in short supply here in the 21st century.

As for the building specifically, “[A]rchitect Edgar Lazarus designed Vista House to ‘recall the ancient and mystic Thor’s crown.’ Braced against the famous Gorge winds, this small building embodies strength.” (I would like to think that growing up amidst such scenery and sentiment is what inspires Oregon-based bands such as Yob to write such awesomely heavy songs.)

Exploration opportunities abounded along Scenic Route 30, and I took advantage to the extent that I was able. As a collector of Victorian-era bridal veils, I decided that a walk along Bridal Veil Falls Trail would be most apropos.

After a 2/3rds of a mile “journey,” I reached the titular attraction.

I was unprepared to do so, and therefore didn’t, but I really can’t think of a better place in which to go swimming.

Keep in mind that all of this is only about 25 miles outside of Portland! To be able to live in a vibrant urban area with such close proximity to nature would be truly phenomenal.

The next stop was Multnomah Falls, one of the most visually stunning, accessible and therefore best-known waterfalls in the state.

I guess it’s only natural that Multnomah would have a downfall, and that is that it’s almost too accessible. It was tough to find a parking spot at the visitor’s center, and the scenic bridge seen above was packed to the gills with camera-toting fools such as myself.

Smile!

The view in the other direction:

Back at the base of the falls, I had an appropriately outdoorsy lunch of smoked trout on (gluten-free!) almond crackers.

There was certainly much more to be seen and explored in the vicinity of Multnomah Falls, but time constraints (the bane of modern existence) were such that I cruised right on into the state of Washington — via the incredibly-named Bridge of the Gods.

Wikipedia informs me (and, by extension, us) that the Bridge of the Gods was named after a “famous geologic event.” Okay, then, Wikipedia. You may as well fill us in on what that was all about:

The Bridge of the Gods was a natural dam created by the Bonneville Slide, a major landslide that dammed the Columbia River near present-day Cascade Locks, Oregon in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. The river eventually breached the bridge and washed much of it away, but the event is remembered in local legends of the Native Americans as the Bridge of the Gods.

As for the bridge itself (as in the bridge I was driving across, not the one of local legend), it provided great views but I didn’t really see any places to pull over. So I just snapped a few quick pictures as I drove across at a very low speed.

And then — bam! — Washington. The greenery was dense.

From here I got on the Lewis and Clark Highway, yet another incredibly scenic road that made me happy to be alive. Working my way eastward, the landscape gradually flattened out and took on a sunbaked and vaguely extra-terrestrial sort of hue.

The above photo was taken at the Maryhill Museum of Art, an unexpectedly expansive establishment.

But I was at the museum mistakenly. What I was looking for turned out to be just a bit up the road.

A full-size replica Stonehenge!

Called the “Stonehenge Memorial,” this structure was built by the pioneering Quaker entrepreneur Sam Hill. Why? The website of the Maryhill Museum of Art explains thusly:

During World War I, Hill delivered relief supplies to Belgium and Russia, and reinforced his interest in travel. While in England, he made his first trip to see Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain where he was told that the structure was believed to be constructed by Druids as a place of human sacrifice.

Hill concluded there was a similarity between the loss of life in this, the greatest of human wars, and the sacrifices of ancient Stonehenge and planned to build a replica of it on the cliffs of the Columbia as a reminder of those sacrifices and the “incredible folly” of the war.

The architecture and precise plan of the structure was guided by leading authorities on archaeology, astronomy, and engineering who combined their knowledge to duplicate, as nearly as possible, the original size and design of the ancient Neolithic ruin in England.

I think at this point I was almost numb to how beautiful everything was. What a country.

50 yards from his quixotic creation, one finds the tomb of Sam Hill. “Amid nature’s great unrest, he sought rest.”

My Mom has told me that she had wanted to name me Sam, but didn’t because it would be associated with the phrase “What in the Sam Hill?” (in which Sam Hill stands in as a euphemism for hell). No one seems to know for sure where that particular expression came from, but it apparently has nothing to do with the Samuel Hill who is buried at the Stonehenge Memorial. (Wikipedia, suddenly my source for everything, makes that clear.)

So what in the Sam Hill am I doing living on the east coast when such splendor is readily available out west?

That, my friends, is a query for another day. For now I’d simply like to extend my gratitude to Jared Ravich, a Pacific Northwest-based Senior Technical Producer here with MLB Advanced Media whose thoughtful suggestions provided me with the template for this most memorable afternoon.

Thanks Jared!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: A Beautiful Saturday Afternoon in Eugene

We have now entered the month of October, and in the world of MiLB.com this means one thing: it’s MiLBY season! For those who, somehow, inexplicably, are unaware, the MiLBYs represent our annual attempt to create order from the chaos via an online vote that will determine the top players, plays and promos of the season that just was.

The promos, in particular, are my domain. Read up on my 12 “Promotion of the Year” nominees HERE and then vote HERE. This year’s candidates, represented visually:

The MiLBYs are a present-day concern, but here on the blog the endless summer of 2012 remains the fixation. Today marks the first in a new series of “Return to the Road” posts, in which we return to the Pacific Northwest for all of the non-ballpark content that’s fit to print from my August road trip. That particular trip began on a Saturday in Eugene and when you’re in Eugene on a Saturday then what better thing to do than visit the Saturday market?

The Saturday Market runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in downtown Eugene, from April through November. Approximately 300 vendors sell their hand-crafted and oft-edible wares, and a loose bohemian vibe prevails. Some scenes from the market:

Roasting some chili peppers. This would be a great ballpark snack, right?

The highlight of the Saturday Market wandering was meeting Bag Man, who seeks to eradicate that which he is composed of. It’s a great cause!


Also wandering about the Market was Eugene Emeralds general manager Allan Benavides and his family. They suggested a stop at the iconic Voodoo Doughnuts, which got its start in Portland and now has a Eugene location located right next to Ken Kesey Square.

The menu is rated PG-13, as double entendres abound.

Good things come in pink boxes, they say.

But none of these good things, not a single one, was gluten-free.

Therefore, I outsourced my doughnut eating duties to Benavides and his son Christian. On the right there is the bacon maple, one of Voodoo’s most famous offerings. Christian opted for some sort of Froot Loops-enhanced creation.

Next door to Voodoo Doughnuts is the aforementioned Ken Kesey Square, which pays tribute to the counter-cultural icon and long-time Eugene native. The Eugene Storefront Art Project had set up shop here, raising awareness of their mission to place short-term exhibits in empty Eugene storefronts.

Thank you for smiling at me.

Later Benavides and I took a quick drive through Eugene’s eccentric Whiteaker neighborhood.

I stared at this for 3.5 hours.

Our final destination was Civic Stadium, which was built in 1938 and first hosted Minor League Baseball in 1955. The Emeralds played their last season there in 2009, and since then the facility (which is owned by the Eugene school district) has fallen into a considerable state of disrepair. Its future is still very much in doubt, although there is a dedicated “Save Civic Stadium” volunteer group working diligently to find viable 21st century options for the old park.

Civic Stadium is located in a residential neighborhood, and many fans used to simply walk to the game. The Emeralds’ move to PK Park, which they lease from the University of Oregon, therefore represented a remarkably different ballpark experience (Benavides’ first season with the team coincided with the move to PK Park, and it has been a considerable challenge to acclimate the team’s fans to this totally new Minor League reality).

Our access, it was restricted.

The neighborhood:

The playing surface has clearly seen better days.

Behind the stadium lurks a beautiful view.

And if you’re lucky, you may get a glimpse of some truly alternative forms of transportation. (You just gotta love Eugene. I was only there for two nights, but in that time became completely accustomed to seeing quirky people doing quirky things. It’s just how that town rolls.)

After this brief stopover at Civic Stadium, Benavides and I went over to PK Park. But, of course, you already read all about that HERE. And HERE.

So, yeah, that’ll do it for all of my content from Eugene. The next morning I left this small metropolis and its outsized eccentricity and set out on the road to Salem, OR. Shortly into this journey, I became enamored with the following dining establishment.

This place had a powerful aesthetic appeal, but I did not eat there as it was very crowded on a late Sunday morning and I always feel very self-conscious eating at crowded restaurants by myself. But just down the road there was a Mexican joint!

Thank goodness for Mexican restaurants. In this gluten-free reality in which I find myself, they have proven themselves to be an ever-reliable culinary option. This plate of food, I salute you:

Next up in this “Return to the Road” series: a day of stunning natural beauty in Oregon, en route from Salem to Yakima.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: Lehigh Valley Tangents

Over their first five years of existence the Lehigh Valley IronPigs have been a rousing success, and in 2012 they once again led all of Minor League Baseball in attendance. I have visited the team on several occasions, the most recent of which are documented HERE and HERE.

On a personal level, I am pleased by the IronPigs’ exemplary operation because they provide that much more reason to visit the Lehigh Valley specifically and Pennsylvania in general (I grew up in neighboring Montgomery County, in the town of Ambler). Last month a group of friends and I spent a weekend in the region, which is documented in this “Return to the Road” post. The purpose, as always, is to document the myriad ways in which a trip to a Minor League Baseball ballpark can be combined with other regional activities.

Ben’s Biz Blog: Exploring the country through Minor League Baseball, one stadium at a time. Let’s go!

This particular Lehigh Valley excursion began in the town of Nazareth, home of the esteemed Martin Guitar company.

Martin Guitars was established in 1833, and is now in its sixth generation of family ownership. Free factory tours are offered daily, and a museum detailing the company’s history is located on the premises as well. The tour was free, although there were strings attached in that there were literally strings attached.

From Nazareth it’s a short drive into Allentown, where we had lunch at the unassuming and welcoming Wert’s Cafe.

I enjoyed my meal here, but this was a case were the restrictions of a gluten-free diet become quite pronounced. No sandwiches, no pies, and no signature onion rings for me! But one regional specialty that I was able to sample was birch beer on tap! I had never had such a thing.

Central Pennsylvania is a haven for birch beer enthusiasts, and in past visits I have been simultaneously confused and delighted by the many varieties. I was certainly confused by the tap offering seen above, at first thinking that the waitress had brought me an actual beer of the mass produced pilsner variety. I enjoyed its smooth, sweet taste, but no ice and low carbonation made it a beverage experience that took some getting used to.

After lunch, Ben’s Biz Blog guest-post writer Steve May suggested that we visit Allentown’s Double Decker records. Great idea!

The store’s exterior may not inspire, but the inside is another story.

Double Decker had a great selection of vinyl both new and used, representing a vast cross-section of (mostly) American music. The store boasts a passionate clientele, whose frequent browsing helped to insure a high turnover rate when it comes to what’s in the bins. If I lived in the area, Double Decker would quickly become part of an early Saturday afternoon routine.

Of course, I couldn’t help but add to my own collection (cat sold separately).

One album I considered buying was Blues Control’s “Valley Tangents,” and I really wish I had. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the band had re-located to Lehigh Valley to record the album (hence its title), and there is even a track titled “Iron Pigs.” This song is awesome and I think it should be played during extra innings at Iron Pigs games once things start to get a little surreal.

As for us, it was indeed time for another valley tangent, as the record store was located quite nearby to the Playdrome Rose Bowl!

I did not bowl nearly as well as I am capable of, but my form remains impeccable. (A rant for another day: Why are 16-pound house balls so hard to find at many bowling alleys?)

My first strike of the day came when “Baby Got Back” was playing. Not a coincidence.

Two games of bowling was the opening act — the day’s headline event was, of course, the IronPigs.

As you know, this particular IronPigs experience has already been chronicled in copious (some would say excessive) detail. But instead of ending this post, I’d like to extend my definition of “Lehigh Valley” to include Elysburg, PA. This humble burg is home to Knoebel’s Amusement Park and for my money (the only money I’m spending these days), Knoebels is the best amusement park in the country — It’s family-run, and there is a level of quality and attention to detail that permeates every aspect of the operation. (Plus, there’s no admission charge! One pays with tickets on a per-ride basis, and a $20 ticket pack has always lasted me throughout the entirety of the day).

The Knoebel’s parking lot, buffeted by rolling hills and formidable cloud cover.

A pickle on a stick and birch beer (in this case a sparkling white) can be had for $2.50, total.

Getting the lay of the land.

The mighty ferris wheel, from below and above.

There was a Theater of Magic pinball machine on the premises. I left my mark.

Each of these airplanes has a built-in rudder, which one can manipulate for maximum aerial advantage.

I miss summer already.


My favorite of all carnival games — you have to roll the bowling ball with enough force to get it over the hump, but delicately enough where it doesn’t simply roll right back to where it started.

A metaphor for life, because what isn’t?

The Haunted House is scary.

“Fascination,” in addition to being an awesome name for a game, is extremely addicting. It’s a form of bingo, basically, in which you fill your card by rolling a ball into numbered holes.

The bumper cars are world class.

As night fell, a large crowd had gathered to see a rock n roll revival show. The band, whose name I cannot recall, devoted the set to covers from each of the Beatles’ solo careers.

So, yeah: Knoebels. It is an awesome place, as is the Lehigh Valley, as is Pennsylvania. I’ll leave it at that, but please know my love extends to all corners like the ever-expanding tentacles of an obtrusive octopus.

Talk to you later.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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