Results tagged ‘ Southern League ’

On the Road: Truncated and Deflated in Nashville

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

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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

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

IMG_0213Booster is a “hot chicken.”

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


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

071One of the contestants waves to the crowd:

074Meanwhile, the players warmed up…

077…while Booster rallied the hordes.

Soon enough, it was time for the National Anthem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

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

New stadium!

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

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

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

“Well, we use it,” was the reply.

Good enough for me!

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

Like, right now:

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

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


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

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

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

023Again, from my piece:

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


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


Hugh Hill: No relation to Ben

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


On the Road: An Early Evening Late Night Snack in Jackson

To see all posts from my August 3, 2015 visit to the Jackson Generals (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my July/August 2015 trip through the Deep South, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

The last time I visited the Jackson Generals, in June 2012, I ran a photo of myself holding a Yuengling beer. This photo, I remarked, had “a personal significance that I’ll explain at a later date.”


The “personal significance” was that this was the last beer that I ever ordered at a ballpark. Earlier that month I had been diagnosed with celiac disease; my late June 2012 trip through the South represented the last time that I would ever eat and drink at a ballpark without concern for said food and drink being gluten-free. The following month I ran a post announcing that I had celiac disease, and the first “designated eater” (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet now prohibits) appeared on the blog at the tail end of that 2012 season.

I now have a designated eater at every ballpark that I visit. At August 3’s Generals game, that individual was a man named Bob Sanders.

030Bob, who works for a Memphis-based claims management company, is a life-long baseball fan who enjoys collecting autographs at Minor League games. His passion for this hobby began in the mid-’80s, when he would attend games at the Memphis Chicks’ home of Tim McCarver Stadium. (The Chicks moved to Jackson in 1998 and became the Generals.) Bob attended the ballgame along with Abigail, his 10-year-old daughter, and Barry, a friend, fellow autograph collector and former Memphis Chicks clubhouse manager.

Amid the usual array of ballpark staples, the Generals offer a few unique items. Most unique — and certainly the most outlandish — is “Sarge’s Late Night Snack.” This sandwich, named after the mascot’s alleged nocturnal food cravings, consists of a quarter pound burger topped with barbecue pork, bacon, Philly steak, and white queso.

“Sarge’s Late Night Snack,” added to the menu in 2015 by new manager of catering and concessions Eric Kormanik, is available at the concourse grill. It’s got a hefty price tag ($14, if my nearly indecipherable notes are to be believed), and the menu posted by the grill offers no details as to what it contains. You have to be very curious or already in the know, criteria that applies to all of the best things in life.

Here’s grillmaster Eric Spencer, standing in front of the array of meat that will soon become Sarge’s Late Night Snack.

026Eric said that he enjoys a “Sarge’s Late Night Snack” on occasion, though he can’t eat it in one sitting. He also doubts Sarge’s ability to eat his namesake item, since he “doesn’t move his mouth.”

After Bob hit the fixins bar, Sarge’s Late Night Snack was ready for its close-up.

029Have at it, Bob.

“It’s actually a pretty good combo. I’m serious,” said Bob. “You actually get the different flavors. The burger’s at the bottom, that’s the first taste, and then the other meats. Definitely, the cheese holds everything together. It makes it a lot easier. Though, this is not something that a dainty person should eat. It’s a manly meal.”

“He’s almost never impressed,” said Abigail, clearly surprised that her Dad was giving Sarge’s Late Night Snack a positive review. She then gave it a try herself.

032“Yum,” said Abigail.

Barry, Memphis Chicks clubbie turned Memphis-area teacher, was then persuaded to give Sarge’s Late Night Snack a try. He did so after Bob said something along the lines of “Hey, you’re single again, might as well get yourself out there.”

Indeed, this would make for an excellent online dating profile picture.

035“That’s pretty good,” he said. “The peppers and onions, that’s my first taste.”

Next up: Barbecue Nachos.

028Like the Sarge’s Late Night Snack, these nachos are another Eric Kormanik creation (not to be confused with Eric Spencer, grillmaster). Eric K. reports that the barbecue pork is courtesy of Jackson-based Cajun Cookers, who deliver the meat, already seasoned, in Cryovac bags.

Here’s Bob as he prepares to enjoy a nacho, with Eric standing proudly beside him.

039“It’s definitely more of a Southern barbecue flavor,” said Bob. “It’s not the Rendezvous [Barbecue Nachos, made famous by the Memphis Redbirds], but it’s a lot better than what Memphis has now. But I would like the option of dry rub.”

As a reference point, here’s a circa-2012 photo of the Memphis Redbirds’ famous Rendezvous Barbecue Nachos. These are the ballpark barbecue nachos against which all other ballpark barbecue nachos are judged.


Abigail sampled the nachos as well, offering a review even more succinct than her first.

040“When she ignores you and keeps eating, it’s generally a good sign,” said Bob.

Next, and last, was a bacon-wrapped pork chop on a stick served on a bed of beans, rice and sausage.

042I cannot confirm with complete certainty that the above item is gluten-free, as Eric was not sure about what was contained in the sauce. However, I could not resist giving this a try. Eat now, die later.

043The bacon-wrapped pork chop did not kill me, though perhaps it did bring me closer to death. My notes, barely decipherable as usual, report that the pork chop was a little dry, but that it “mixed well with the bacon, complementary flavors.” The beans and rice, meanwhile, were “well-spiced and flavorful.”

“Well-spiced and flavorful” — just like every post that I create for this, the greatest Minor League Baseball blog of all time. Thank you, as always, for supporting (or at least tolerating) the greatness.

On the Road: 126 Minutes of Baseball in Jackson

To see all posts from my August 3, 2015 visit to the Jackson Generals (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my July/August 2015 trip through the Deep South, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

It is now time to resume this Monday night narrative, which involves a game between the Jackson Generals and visiting Chattanooga Lookouts that took place on August 3. It was a beautiful evening for Southern League baseball at the Ballpark in Jackson.


Unfortunately, not many people were on hand to witness this beautiful evening of Southern League baseball at The Ballpark in Jackson. Not only was it a Monday night, but it was the first day of school for Jackson-area youngsters. August 3! The first day of school!

While I’m sure there are valid reasons for the increasingly around-the-clock nature of the educational year, it just seems wrong and un-American for kids to be back in class in early August. Therefore, I am of the belief that Minor League Baseball’s legal counsel in Washington should start lobbying for the restoration of the traditional three-month summer vacation. Young fans shouldn’t have to leave a game early because it’s bedtime, as this is a traumatic experience that can do severe damage to the psyche of a developing mind.

Perhaps the players had these new school year time constraints in mind, as the Generals cruised to a 2-1 victory over the Lookouts in a contest that took just two hours and six minutes. Due to such brevity, I was not able to wander The Ballpark at Jackson to the extent that I would have liked. By the time I finished meeting with my designated eater (this will be detailed in the next post), it was the sixth inning and the sun was setting beyond the third base side of the stadium.

031Though time was limited, I did witness some interesting between-inning elements. This picture depicts the aftermath of some sort of onfield Pac-Man race, which featured Pac-Man, ghosts and young fans chasing one another. The denizens of the visitors bullpen were mildly amused, at best.
038And while I was not able to document it properly, at one point I saw a “Simba Cam”, in which parents triumphantly held up their children ala The Lion King. Trevor Gooby would have approved.

And then there was the “Oblivious Cam,” in which the camera is trained on a fan in the stands until he or she actually realizes it.

041Late in the game I paid a visit to the broadcast booth, currently the domain of Brandon Leibhaber (left) and Chris Kleinhans-Schulz (other left).

044I spent an inning on the air with Brandon, who appears to have merged his head into another man’s shoulder.

050Brandon and Chris just may be “The Most Interesting Broadcasters in the Southern League.”

051I also made a brief cameo in the press box, which reminded me of my 2012 visit to Jackson. In this press box, more than three years ago, I interviewed bus driver Thomas “Double T” Tansil for a story on the team’s unorthodox celebration of the first-half title.

048As the game was winding down, I devised and disseminated my requisite “Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day.”


Finally, I interviewed Generals security guard Jimmy Barnes. (Barnes appeared in the previous post as well, driving myself and mascot Sarge on to the field in a vintage military Jeep.)

054Barnes, a Jackson native and lifelong fan of the hometown team, has become an iconic figure at the ballpark. As detailed in my story, there is a Jimmy Barnes Fan Club (which has yet to officially meet), and between-inning contestants sometimes receive an autographed photo of Jimmy as a consolation prize.


The Jimmy Barnes

As I finished up my interview with “The Jimmy Barnes”, “The Jackson Generals” wrapped up their lightning quick victory over “The Chattanooga Lookouts.”


So that will be it for me, “The Ben’s Biz.” Thanks for reading this post, and thanks for reading every post. There’s more where this came from, because there always is.

On the Road: A Return Trip to the Ballpark in Jackson

To see all posts from my August 3, 2015 visit to the Jackson Generals (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my July/August 2015 trip through the Deep South, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

The last time I visited the Jackson Generals, in 2012, the team called Pringles Park home. These days, the Generals play at a facility with a less corporate, yet somehow more awkward, name: The Ballpark at Jackson.

It’s the same ballpark, though. Only the name has changed.

The Ballpark at Jackson is located east of downtown, with convenient access from interstate 40. There are a couple of hotels in the general vicinity, as well as a movie theater, high school and adjacent “Sportsplex.” But, on the whole, this is a ballpark that exists in comparative isolation from other attractions. Such is the price of convenience.

001Upon entering the stadium, my first impression (or my second first impression, since I had been before) was that it is high and steep. There are no seats  that are higher than the concourse (outside of the suites and a group picnic area), and the slope downward to the playing field is rather severe. At this ballpark, the general feeling is of being above it all. 

008“General” admission.


On the concourse, I ran into my good friend Sarge. He was wearing camo, as he is wont to do, a get-up befitting a mascot who represents the Generals. He’s a three-star general, apparently. I wonder if not washing his uniform increases his rank (odor).

014When Minor League Baseball returned to Jackson in 1998, the team was known as the “Diamond Jaxx.” I’d like to think that this name was in honor of a West Tennessee-based pro wrestling tag team, but, then again, I like to think a lot of things. The “Generals” moniker was adopted in 2011, in homage to the Kitty (short for Kentucky, Illinois, Tennessee) League franchise of the same name that existed from 1935 through 1954. But I do not know why that team, the original Generals, was named “The Generals” in the first place. Perhaps someone can enlighten me and, by extension, us.

Anyhow, after getting the thumbs-up from Sarge, he and I went outside and rendezvoused with security guard Jimmy Barnes. It was time for Sarge’s nightly Jeep ride onto the playing field; Barnes, a retired veteran well-versed in the operation of vintage military vehicles, serves as his chauffeur.


I’m glad it wasn’t me driving this thing. I probably would have crashed it immediately upon hitting the gas pedal.


I did have the honor of riding shotgun, however.

A view from the Jeep:

017Soon after our ride was completed, line-up cards were exchanged. During this time, I noticed (and made note of) a slogan that was displayed on the videoboard: “See them now to say you saw them then.” I like that.

020The line-up exchange was followed by the singing of our National Anthem. Everything was proceeding according to plan.

021And then — bam! — game time.

024By now, you probably now how this works. There’ll be much more to come from Jackson.

On the Road: Keeping It Simple in Mississippi

To see all posts from my August 2, 2015 visit to the Mississippi Braves (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my July/August 2015 trip through the Deep South, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

This is Steven Ericson, a geography professor at the University of Alabama and a big fan of Minor League Baseball.


I had known Steven for several years in the virtual realm, through Twitter (@geoSteven) as well as his baseball-centric “My Geography Lessons” blog. But it wasn’t until this August afternoon at TrustMark Park that I met him in physical form. He had made the trip from Tuscaloosa, Alabama to Pearl, Mississippi to serve as my designated eater (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits).

When it comes to concessions, the Mississippi Braves take an “only the basics” approach. In previous seasons they’d experimented with regional items like catfish sandwiches, but they didn’t sell well enough to justify the effort. So what Steven and I were left with on this scorching Sunday afternoon was an array of the familiar — hot dogs, burgers, pizza (from Domino’s) and the like.

022After much gnashing of teeth regarding how to make a bland situation interesting, we simply decided to take a “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach. Steven, therefore, ordered a hot dog ($3) and topped it with Heinz yellow mustard. He didn’t do a very good job in making it look appetizing, however. I was like “C’mon, dude. This hot dog is gonna appear on the internet!”

038Before sitting down to enjoy his hot dog, Steven and I had our photos taken at the iSnap machine installed on the concourse.

Steven has at it:

The quote that I have from Steven regarding his hot dog-eating experience doesn’t really make sense. Maybe I wrote it down wrong.

“It’s average,” he said. “A slice of Americana encased in Americana by enjoying a hot dog at a baseball game. But, yeah, it’s just a hot dog.”

As mentioned in the above Vine video, Steven had obtained an Oxford Brewing Company “Sorority Blonde Ale” along with his hot dog. I didn’t take a picture of it, but I did take a picture of Steven taking a picture of it. He was going to post his photo on Untappd, an app presumably named by a drunk person.

040“It’s very smooth and mellow, a very tasty beer,” said Steven, of the Sorority Blonde Ale. “But it’s not as good as Hipster Repellent IPA.”

Hipster Repellent IPA: a thing that exists.

A hot dog does not a blog post make — I have a crocheted saying to this effect hanging in my bedroom — so Steven and I headed back to the concession stands. The stand offering nachos in a full-size helmet was already closed, or “Na-closed,” as it were, so he opted for a gyro. That’s pretty unique, right? A gyro at a baseball game? We were trying our best.
043Steven, eating a gyro while standing alone on concrete.


Uh, that’s boring. Steven, how about you sing about your gyro to the tune of “Wind Beneath My Wings”?

“It’s really warm. Good. Hot,” said Steven, hopefully referring to the gyro. “A mix of lamb and fresh provolone cheese. It kind of tastes like a Philly cheesesteak in a pita.”

I, meanwhile, took the opportunity to purchase an M-Braves collector’s cup. I did this to placate the #cupdate fiends out there, who harbor an unceasing desire to gaze upon images such as these.

IMG_0129While Steven and I didn’t have too much to talk about on the food side of things, we did engage in an interesting discussion about the field of geography and how it relates to Minor League Baseball. After a while, I had a realization: Why not turn this conversation into an story? So I took out my phone, hit record on the voice memo, and conducted a formal interview. THIS was the result.

CaptureSteven Ericson, Mississippi Braves designated eater turned superstar. It could happen to you, it could happen to anyone. Life is unpredictable.

On the Road: Meandering through a Sunday afternoon in Mississippi

To see all posts from my August 2, 2015 visit to the Mississippi Braves (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my July/August 2015 trip through the Deep South, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

Okay, so where was I? Oh, right. I was where I often am: wandering around at the start of a Minor League ballgame. This particular ballgame was taking place at TrustMark Park in Pearl, Mississippi, home of the Mississippi Braves. It was a Sunday afternoon, and the game-time temperature was a little over 100 degrees. Nothing new to me — I bring the heat everywhere I go.

The M-Braves, like a lot of teams in the South, don’t draw particularly well on Sundays. Church may be air-conditioned, but the ballpark definitely isn’t. TrustMark Park has 5400 fixed seats and a max capacity of 8000, but on this particular afternoon there was plenty of room in which to move.

021While wandering the concourse I discovered this iSnap photo booth. Fans can have their picture taken, for free, and then immediately have it emailed to them and/or posted on the social media platform of their choice.

023I decided to give it a try, though I clearly wasn’t ready when the picture was taken. That tomahawk in the background was driven straight through my skull.

Moving on to the picnic area, I was reminded that, despite the heat, it was a beautiful day.

025Now here’s something I’d never seen before. The M-Braves took what had been a secondary team store and converted it into the Season Ticket Holders Concierge.


Season ticket holders can come here to get that day’s free gift, obtain a snack or a drink, or simply luxuriate in the air conditioning.

028The Farm Bureau Grill, located in right field, is open for lunch on game days as well as during the game itself.

030Above the entrance to the Grill, one can find a collection of Southern League team caps. Note that the Pensacola Blue Wahoos cap was placed directly atop the team they replaced in the league, the Carolina Mudcats.


Upstairs, in this double suite, some longtime season-ticket holders were enjoying their comfortable surroundings. I felt like I was peeking into somebody’s living room.

033My visit to the suite was followed by a brief visit to the press box.



The view from above is similar to the view below. Why wouldn’t it be?


I was told that the sun sets behind third base at all Atlanta-owned Minor League franchises (Danville, Rome, Mississippi, Gwinnett). This mirrors the conditions at Turner Field.


The above photo was taken later in the ballgame, after I had spent a few innings with that afternoon’s designated eater (to be detailed in the next post). Tyler Jones was warming up for the M-Braves in the bullpen, as Louisiana native Bryton Bertrand Trepagnier looked on.

047Nothing gets fans excited for late-inning Minor League Baseball quite like a strong dose of Lil Jon over the PA system.

Neither Jones nor Trepagnier got into the game, which the M-Braves won by a score of 4-3 over the Tennessee Smokies.

049The game was played in a comparatively crisp two hours and 35 minutes, leaving me with barely enough time to compose, record and disseminate my groundbreaking and subversive ballpark joke of the day.

With the ballgame complete, kids ran the bases as water shot across the grass in programmed arcs. The sun had set on yet another day at the ballpark.


On the Road: The Land of the Braves in Mississippi

To see all posts from my August 2, 2015 visit to the Mississippi Braves (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my July/August 2015 trip through the Deep South, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

As I approached TrustMark Park, home of the Mississippi Braves, the sounds of Guns N’ Roses’ “Paradise City” could be heard wafting from within. The ballpark sure looked like paradise at that moment, or at least as close to paradise as a shopping center in suburban Mississippi is ever gonna get.


003The Mississippi Braves play in the paradise that is Pearl. This central Mississippi metropolis has a population of approximately 25,000, but the M-Braves also draw on communities such as Jackson, the neighboring state capitol. Trustmark Park was built in 2005, in conjunction with a mammoth Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World store. Only a vast expanse of asphalt separates the two.


Bass Pro Shop, towering in the distance

Upon entering the stadium, this was the view to my left.

006And this, the view to my right. From the M-Braves’ inaugural 2005 season through 2014 they were the only Minor League team in Mississippi. That changed this season with the arrival of the Biloxi Shuckers. The Shuckers are abundant in oyster imagery, yet the M-Braves are the ones in Pearl.

007Since that debut season 2005, many M-Braves have gone on to play in the Majors. At the time I visited, this number stood at 99. Most of these M-Braves, of course, have gone on to the A-Braves.


Many of these M-Braves also spent time with the D-Braves (Rookie-level Danville), R-Braves (Class A Rome and, also, now-defunct Triple-A Richmond) and the G-Braves (Triple-A Gwinnett). The Braves are, by far, the most boring organization in baseball. They own all (but one) of their Minor League affiliates, and when they own a team they name it the Braves while also injecting it with a strong dose of inherent conservatism. May their model never catch on.

Shortly after arriving at the stadium, I made my way to the vertically-inclined abode of M-Braves broadcaster Kyle Tait.


In the above picture, you may be able to see that the grass on the field is not quite up to “Paradise City” standards. Kyle explained that the team had received no rain whatsoever in July, and hadn’t experienced a rainout since June. Persistent dryness is not good for grass. There’s research out there that backs this up.

After saying a tearful goodbye to Kyle I met M-Braves media relations manager Miranda Black, who showed me around the stadium. This cozy area, also known as the home clubhouse, is one such area that I was shown.


It’s been a season of transition for the Atlanta Braves organization, and as a result of various wheelings and dealings the M-Braves experienced a tremendous amount of roster turnover. Roster turnover necessitates a great deal of logistical maneuvering on the part of the front office staff, such as scheduling photo sessions for the new arrivals.

014I spotted this sign hanging in the weight room, hoping against hope that I would be able to find any sort of spelling or grammatical error. You win this round, Braves.

017As the result of a partnership with the Mississippi lottery, that day’s winning numbers are posted in the clubhouse hallways. I can’t think of what else this would be.

018Meanwhile, out on the field, a ballgame had begun. The M-Braves were hosting the Montgomery Biscuits, whom I had seen play in Montgomery the night before. The game time temperature was a sultry 102 degrees, decidedly not paradise-like conditions.

021And thus concludes part one of this M-Braves blogging saga. Part two will be similar to part one, but the subtle differences between them will delight, confound and educate the discerning reader in equal measure.

On the Road: Biscuits in Montgomery

To see all posts from my August 1, 2015 visit to the Montgomery Biscuits (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my July/August 2015 trip through the Deep South, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

First things first: The Montgomery Biscuits do indeed offer biscuits. Minor League Baseball is all about selling yourself.


The Biscuits’ biscuit options include those topped with jam, chicken biscuits, biscuits with gravy, and biscuits served with locally beloved Alaga syrup.  These, and all of the team’s food offerings, are provided by PSC (Professional Sports Catering), a Minor League Baseball-specific concessions company owned by Biscuits co-owners Sherrie Myers and Tom Dickson.

On hand to try these offerings was Joe Marcus, my designated eater for the evening (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). Through the years, Joe had left multiple comments on this blog imploring me to visit Montgomery. So, when I finally did schedule a visit, I figured I’d give him the first crack at being designated eater. He accepted the offer, and so here we were.


Joe, a Montgomery native and radio business veteran, has long been a local baseball supporter. He said that one of his favorite memories is of seeing Knoxville Sox infielder Bucky Dent (yes, that Bucky Dent) hitting a game-winning home run in the 1972 playoffs against Montgomery. Upon further review, it appears that this home run was hit in the 1972 Southern League All-Star Game (played in Montgomery), but close enough.  43 years is a long time for a memory to stay completely accurate.

In more recent years (but still long ago), Joe served as the PA guy at the Montgomery Rebels’ home of Patterson Field. The Rebels played their last season in 1980, Montgomery then went without affiliated Minor League Baseball until the Biscuits arrived in 2004.

I met with Joe in the concourse-level Club Car Bar, where the Biscuits had prepared the following spread.

048 We started, of course, with the biscuits. These, specifically, were chicken biscuits.


Prior to meeting with Joe, he had warned me in an email that he and his friends would most likely be in “good form” this evening. And, indeed, he was. In this case, his “good form” extended to completely dismantling the biscuits immediately upon laying hands on them.


“I can see that Joe Marcus has been here,” said Joe’s friend, Mike, surveying the smashed pile of biscuits that Joe had instantaneously created.

Mike was flitting around the perimeter of the scene, barefoot, drinking a beer, completely uninterested in why his pal was being photographed with an array of food items. Joe, while molding the smashed biscuits into some sort of dough pyramid, made clear that he wished he’d been given a cheesesteak and now kinda seemed hesitant about this whole “designated eating” endeavor. Meanwhile, the Biscuits’ staffers involved with preparing and delivering the food receded far away from the action, giving off a vibe of “Uh, what’s going on here?”

But the show must go on, even if the energy’s off. Joe re-assembled the mess to the best of his mess re-assembling abilities, and the following Vine was created. I guess I thought it was all pretty funny at the time.

“It would have been better with Alaga Syrup,” said Joe, of what had once been a biscuit. “It’s good. It’d be better with some syrup.”

Next up was “The Gump,” a new offering for the 2015 season utilizing the Biscuits’ in-house barbecue. It consists of smoked pulled pork, cole slaw, cheese (pepper jack, I believe), onions and barbecue sauce. Apologies for the poor quality photo, as I was having trouble stage-managing the designated eating experience on this particular evening.

Joe took a bite and then warily held it out for closer inspection.
053“It’s a little heavy for a hot night,” said Joe. “It’s kind of a hybrid of grilled cheese and barbecue. I wouldn’t turn it down.”

And, indeed, he didn’t.

Seeking to give Joe a brief respite from his designated eating duties, I sampled a fresh strawberry smoothie that had been made at the team’s new smoothie bar. The thumbs up was more than a reflexive photo pose, as this smoothie was sweet (but not too sweet), fresh and natural. Just like me.

059Also, for the record, the Biscuits are now serving Chloe’s fruit pops. Gluten free! It melted before I got the chance to try it, however, providing yet another example of the ephemeral nature of all earthly matter.

055But back to Joe. Joe still had some nachos to eat.


These, specifically, are “Super Nachos.” Pork, chicken and beef were all part of the equation.

050 “This is my favorite,” said Joe. “As good as you’ll find at a mainstream Mexican restaurant, as opposed to the little places that are authentic.”

And that was about it for Joe, who was more than ready to abandon Ben’s Biz Blog in favor of the more familiar alliterative triumvirate that is ballgame, buddies and beer. When asked to sum up his designated eating experience, his answer was wistful and poetic.

“I’m glad someone remembered me,” he said. “I coulda been a contender.”

On the Road: Miraculous Encounters and Unavoidable Delays in Montgomery

To see all posts from my August 1, 2015 visit to the Montgomery Biscuits (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my July/August 2015 trip through the Deep South, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

I ended Part One of this Biscuits blog series with a reference to the team’s theme song. Well, if you like team theme songs, then you’re in luck. The Biscuits’ have two of them! If “They’re Out of Sight” wasn’t your thing, then maybe “Bring on the Biscuits” will strike your fancy.

Let’s Cook!

And now, on to Part Two. The game was underway at this juncture of the evening, meaning that it was time for me to wander. It is never not time for me to wander, and it is never not time for a non sequitur.

Did you know that Montgomery is home to a Hyundai plant? In 2015, the three millionth vehicle rolled off of the assembly line and into our hearts. That vehicle was purchased by the city and installed on the Riverwalk Stadium concourse


Meanwhile, upstairs in the owner’s suite, Miss Gravy, Duchess of Pork, was making the rounds. The leash-holder in the above photo is Biscuits co-owner Sherrie Myers, who was hosting a “Leadership Alabama” event that evening and did not have time to speak with me. Myers and her husband, Tom Dickson, also own the Lansing Lugnuts, as well as PSC (Professional Sports Catering).


Big Mo, a biscuit loving beast if there ever was one, always has time to mingle with his constituency.


Big Mo and I spent the better part of an hour just standing there, our arms around one another, gazing lovingly into the middle distance. It was a beautiful evening in which to do such things.

063But nothing lasts forever, not even intimate moments with Southern League mascots. I eventually made my way downstairs, visiting a team store in which one can actually find biscuits in the oven.

065Overseeing these biscuits, and many other pieces of paraphernalia, is merchandise director Steve Keller.

065 I wrote a feature about the Biscuits for, providing an overview of the operation, and that feature included my observation that Keller “is quite possibly the only native-born German in a Minor League front office.” When will I learn not to write such things? Because, hilariously and inevitably, I soon received an email from Pensacola Blue Wahoos merchandise manager Denise Richardson. The email read, in part:

“I just wanted to point out that [the Biscuits] merchandise manager is not the only native-born German working in a Minor League front office – he is not even the only one in the Southern League. I was also born in Germany. Lived there for several years and then visited my Oma every summer in Maroldsweisach (in Bavaria) until she was too elderly to entertain my brother and I. My mother was the first and only member of her family to come to America. So, while Steve Keller probably spent a larger portion of his life there, I just wanted to let you know that is he not, “quite possibly the only native-born German working in a Minor League front office.” 

May I suggest a new league motto?

The Southern League: Current Home to (At Least) Two German-born Merchandise Directors. 

download (1)While in the team store, I made the following Vine. I should have added a #YAM tag to this, which of course stands for “Yet Another Masterpiece”.

Upon leaving the team store, I had a chat with the one and only Dr. Miraculous, a man of spectacular facial hair and deep Montgomery baseball knowledge.

071Dr. Miraculous — real name, Shane — is a lifelong Montgomery baseball fan who has childhood memories of seeing Mark Fidyrich pitch for the Montgomery Rebels. He attends nearly every Biscuit game, and blogs about Montgomery baseball past and present via the Dr. Miraculous blog.

Dr. Miraculous told me that, through the years, Montgomery has fielded a lot of good teams. The ’40s and ’50s were a particularly fertile period, though he currently finds himself particularly interested in the ’09 team. As in, 1909.

Dr. Miraculous has already written about me on his blog, noting that “I met blogger-king Ben Hill and managed to not make a single reference to Yakkity Sax.”

Dr. Miraculous. This is the fourth straight paragraph that begins with Dr. Miraculous. And, also, the last. Time was running out on the evening, which meant that it was time to write, record and disseminate a groundbreaking and subversive ballpark joke.

Yes, there was a baseball game going on throughout all of this, as there always is. Without it, nothing else would have reason to exist. After the visiting Tennessee Smokies secured a 4-3 victory over the Biscuits, it was time for a post-game fireworks display.

Except no. No, it wasn’t yet time for a post-game fireworks display. A CSX freight train was making its way past the stadium, and the fireworks couldn’t commence until the team received permission from the yardmaster to do so.

081The delay was considerable, as this freight train was so long — How long was it? — It was so long that it ended up circling the entire globe and running in to its own caboose. While at the mercy of the whims of the mercurial yardmaster and his serpentine machinery, the team passed the time by showing a video of Muppets characters lip-syncing to “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

As the train snaked by, the yardmaster cackling dementedly in his lair, the folks in the production booth had to scramble to keep the crowd entertained. Over the next 15 minutes or so, they just about exhausted their crowd-pleasing absurdist viral video supply. In addition to Muppets’ paying homage to Queen, there was (of course) “Let It Go,” the Muppets doing “Don’t Stop Believing”, “Turn Down for What” mashed up with video from Frozen, “Happy” accompanied by video of dogs, the SpongeBob SquarePants theme (of course), something that my notes describe as “cats being manipulated to dubstep” and more. The zeitgeist was in full effect.

I was a freight it would never happen, but finally the team got permission to shoot off the fireworks. Could I have taken a worse picture than this? Probably not.

082And that, as they say, was that. As “Sweet Home Alabama” filtered over the PA, I Riverwalked my way out of the stadium. Another ballpark visit is now in the books.


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