Results tagged ‘ Southern Swing 2013 ’

On the Road: Sounds Like a Good Time in Nashville

I visited Nashville’s Greer Stadium on Thursday, May 9th. The Sounds were expecting me:

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Two days later I was asked by another writer, via Twitter, my thoughts on the ballpark and my 140-character summation was as follows:

“It’s a bit of a dump and inadequate for the needs of such a large market…BUT…it’s got a ramshackle charm that I really enjoy.”

I stand by that sentiment, which isn’t surprising since said sentiment is, as I type this in a Savannah hotel room, less than 24 hours old. Greer Stadium — 35 years old and showing its age — is no one’s idea of an ideal facility (especially in a major market that boasts the NFL, NHL and a plethora of top-flight cultural attractions). But until that far away and as of now theoretical day when a new downtown stadium gets built, this out of the way anomaly will have to do. And I, for one, think it does just fine. If you like ramshackle charm — yes, three paragraphs in and I’m already quoting myself — then I think you’ll like it too.

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037The area surrounding the stadium is rather hilly (Fort Negley, built by occupying Union forces during the Civil War, sits adjacent), and while walking in and around Greer one often has the feeling of  not being totally on the level. Upon entering the stadium the concrete slopes downward quite sharply, which, on this particular occasion, led fans directly to a box of underwear.

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The briefs were being given away by Gildan, a Triple-A baseball sponsor, who were asking fans to take Instagram pictures during the game tagged #gildanfavorites. What a life this gentleman in the middle of the picture has had — from serving in Korea and Vietnam to being given free underwear at a Minor League Baseball game as part of a social media initiative. I bet he was Instagramming all night long.

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From the concourse to the press box, where I took the first of many photos that includes Greer’s iconic guitar scoreboard. No strings attached!

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Per the team: The guitar-shaped scoreboard is a fan favorite for all who come to Greer Stadium. Its total width is nearly 116 feet — 60′ (guitar body), 36′ (scoreboard/neck), 19.6′ (turning key section). The height is 53′ and depth is 24″.

The vast expanse of seats, just waiting for the throngs of “Throwback Thursday” fans ($5 admission w/coupon and $2 beer, soda and concession items, all while the team wears its throwback blue jerseys).

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Some of these seats are in better shape than others. These, down the third base line, are a tad sunbleached.

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I briefly ascended to the top of the stadium to check out the view from Slugger’s (a bar and restaurant open to all fans).

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These elevated meanderings were cut short however, as I had urgent business to attend to on the ground level. My media pass was contingent upon being a contestant in the nightly Tire Race.

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As the game began, I, media relations director Alex Wassel, and my fellow tire race qualifiers were crouched in the aisle while waiting for our  big racing moment. I took a few pictures from this vantage point.

The National Anthem, as sung by a burly trio known as The Kentucky Lineman (far left, their arms around one another).

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With the game underway, it’s time to play a game within a game called “Can you name that Fresno Grizzlie head”? There are nine heads in this picture, please list who they belong to (left to right) and leave your answer in the comments section. There is no prize, and I don’t know the answer, but, please, just do it, just because.

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Throwback Thursday, underway!

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The fans, from the get-go, were rooting for Fresno to go down in de-feet.

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With that burst of photographic artfulness out of the way, I handed my camera to Wassel so that he could document the tire race exploits.

What, me Ozzie?

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How it went down:

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Yes, that dude totally wiped out at second base and still won.

I checked my phone after the race and saw that I had an urgent text from one Heather Beshore: “I’m hungry!”

Heather was to be the evening’s designated eater, and if you’re new to the blog (the most underrated enterprise in all of sports media)  then let me explain: I have recruited a “designated eater” at each ballpark that I visit, and this individual is tasked with eating the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet does not allow (I was diagnosed with celiac disease last season. Waaaah).

I was put in touch with Heather after recieving an email from her boyfriend, Chris, who is also eating gluten-free these days. She’s a Florida native who came to Nashville for grad school and then decided to stay, and her job currently has something to do with 401K plans (she didn’t provide many details, in favor of eating a hamburger).

“Chris is from Wisconsin and he loves the Brewers [the Sounds' parent club], so when he comes here he’s really into the baseball,” said Heather. “Me, I just come for the food!”

True to form, then, Chris opted to stay downstairs and watch baseball while Heather and I went up to Slugger’s.

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Heather B, not to be confused with the season one Real World star of the same name

That’s Heather with an “Ozzie Burger” and a Blue Moon, which we had procured at the concourse-level Bullpen Burgers. (Her favorite Greer Stadium food option, The Dog Pound, was unfortunately closed for the evening).

Not available!

Not available!

So, yes, the burger it was. It was falling apart from the get-go.

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As for the Ozzie Burger, Heather was non-plussed.

“I’d give it a 5 or a 6,” she said. “It’s juicy, and a little messy, but it lacks the spice and charm of a home-made burger. It’s a little too generic.”

She also helpfully explained that, even though the burger is named after Ozzie the mascot, “it does not taste like cat.”

BUT! She then raved about a prior experience with Slugger’s BBQ Pork Nachos, so I grabbed an order of those as well.

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Heather, as you can see, was hesitant to be documented in mid-bite. That’s fine! This whole “designated eater” thing is an experiment, and for now I don’t really have any rules with it. I’m just glad people are willing to do it, and it’s been a fun way to meet a new person at every ballpark. Heather was relaxed and engaging and had a great sense of humor about the whole thing.

She also had a lot of nachos (okay, I may have had some as well, trying to avoid the gluten-ous processed cheese).

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“I’m still very happy even though I’m full,” said Heather. “I’m happy I had food, and I’m happy I ate it.”

Well said!

Okay, back to the game action.

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The usual shenanigans:

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Scooter vs. the Scoreboard (long-time readers and/or Appletonians might get that reference).

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I may have totally misheard, but I’m pretty sure these bullpen denizens were debating the merits of various Norman Lear-produced sitcoms.

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“Dude, Maude is the best spin-off of all-time.”

Following Ozzie’s pawprints, I took a walk through the concourse. Although I missed the chance to take a picture of them, I soon was greeted by two goofy white kids about 12 years of age.

“Hello, sir, I am Chief Keef,” said one.

“I am Waka Flaka,” said the other. “Please buy my album.”

But anyway. Pictures of the ramshackle charm in full effect.

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Let it be known that, on this particular evening, the Pacific Coast League’s Pacific Southern Division was as close as it could possibly be. Almost.

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Those teams, like these people, are back-to-back-back-to-back.

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My wanderings led me to the other side of the ballpark, shockingly enough, and, even more shockingly, a game was still going on.

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The Greer Garden has seen better days, it appears.

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Despite being a decent crowd overall, it was totally deserted in this beyond-the-outfield area. I made a Vine video expressing my profound feeling of isolation, and hope that you may devote six seconds to it. (Follow me on Twitter — @bensbiz — to see all Vine videos as soon as they are posted).

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Back in civilization! I love the enthusiasm of these women, who were playing a “Choose the Box” game that netted Becky (in the Pirates jersey) Sounds tickets and a Burger King gift card. So much emotion!

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Rat Patrol in the house!

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(Later in the evening I saw a member of Rat Patrol in the restroom, so I lingered by the sink so that I could ask a few questions about the organization. But, of course, the dude opted not to wash his hands and, looking back, it was very naive of me to have assumed otherwise.)

On a similarly rock n roll note: the day before, Jack White had been in attendance along with employees of his Nashville-based Third Man record label. (Also, a record-pressing plant is located across the street from the stadium!) This picture later surfaced on Third Man’s Instagram page, although it was free from any underwear-related taggings:

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I spent the last two innings with Adam Hayes, a video intern for the Milwaukee Brewers who, using a thing called technology, extensively documents every Sounds home game.

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For more on Hayes and how he operates, read my MiLB.com story! That is not a request, but a demand.

The game concluded with an 11-7 Sounds victory, and as the stadium was emptying out I ran into Dave Clark and Doug Cornfield, from the Dave Clark Foundation. You may remember them from my Fort Myers visit from last season, and/or my story on the “Special Needs Baseball Camp” for disabled youth. They were in town to run a disability camp at Greer Stadium over the weekend –a worthwhile cause, and more will be held at Minor League parks throughout the season. Always worth supporting!

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So, anyway, to sum it up: If ramshackle charm is your thing then get thee to Greer!

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benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Get Your Motor Running in Bowling Green

While 2009 included a couple of incidental dilly-dallies, these “On the Road” blog installments began in earnest in 2010. 2013, then, marks the fourth season of this on-going adventure, in which I visit Minor League stadiums nationwide and deliver the results of said explorations to you, a reader both discerning and loyal and very attractive.

All of this is to say: “Yes, I am on the road again” (quotes utilized because I said this out loud while typing). And this year’s travels began in Bowling Green.

(NOTE: For more crucial Bowling Green “On the Hot Road” content, please read this MiLB.com story. As I have said time and time again, largely to no avail: I am not just a blogger!)

Bowling Green is the home of the Hot Rods, and the Hot Rods play in Bowling Green Ballpark.

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Like many Minor League stadiums that have come before, Bowling Green Ballpark is being utilized as the centerpiece of a downtown revitalization project. It opened in 2009 — marking the first time that Bowling Green had had professional baseball since 1942 — and four years later new retail, restaurant and residential buildings are springing up around it.

The resultant landscape is very much a work in progress —  the new mixed with the old, 21st century innovation blended with industrial-era decay. A few views from the second level:

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A short walk down the street seen below leads to Bowling Green’s downtown square, a truly picturesque and tranquil old-fashioned retail hub that I visited the next day.

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I’ll have more on Bowling Green’s downtown area in a future “Return to the Road” post, but here’s a glimpse of its beauty:

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But back to the ballpark — more vantage points!

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And is that what I think it is? The answer to this question, due to the fact that I know what I’m thinking, is a resounding yes: train tracks! And trains!

Bowling Green may be an automotive town (the Hot Rods are named, in part, due to the presence of a Corvette factory), but the train survives:

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Speaking of vantage points, the Hot Rods broadcast booth offers a unique one. The “Stadium Club” bar and restaurant area for season ticket holders is located on the second level behind home plate, meaning that those calling the action have been shunted off to the side. Here’s that view:

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Broadcaster Hank Fuerst seemed at peace with this set-up, utilizing everyone’s favorite tautology: “It is what it is.”

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Are there other stadiums which position the broadcasters in such a fashion, in favor of giving season ticket holders the best views? The only one I can think of off-hand is Harrisburg, post-renovation. Here’s a look at that, from my trip in 2010: 

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The Stadium Club and its view:

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We’ll return to the Stadium Club in a bit, but for now let’s descend to sea level. The pre-game sights were similar to that which you’ll find at MiLB parks all over the country.

I get lost in your eyes…

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Larry Parrish, big league slugger turned manager of the visiting West Michigan Whitecaps, signing a few autographs.

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Bowling Green, as you may know, is located fairly close to the natural wonder that is Mammoth Caves. Such topography extends to the city as well, which is a Karst landscape (I learned this term from Fuerst). What this means, in essence, is that stadium construction couldn’t extend far into the ground because of the instability of the earth below. This is why clubhouses and batting cages and storage areas and such are located beyond the outfield.

(This is a very poor explanation, and as my Dad is a geologist I am now expecting him to chime in via the comments section.)

I had been tapped to throw a first pitch, and while waiting for this honor to occur I wandered around the perimeter of the playing field.

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Hank Fuerst, looking sad in this non-representative still, doing the pre-game show on the rather impressive videoboard.

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Notice that the pre-game show is called “The Tune-Up.” Other team name tie-ins to be found around the stadium include the “Turbo Times” game program and “Body Shop” team store.

Finally — the first pitch, as overseen by promotions manager Jennifer Johnson. I have delivered quite a few first pitches over the years, but this marked the first occasion in which I was asked to introduce myself (usually, the intros are done over the PA in hyperbolic fashion). While I now wish I had taken the opportunity to tell the crowd that Sparks is the most underrated band of all time, I simply said “Ben Hill, from MinorLeagueBaseball.com” in a tone most stentorian.

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And, well, let’s just say that it  wasn’t one of my better offerings.

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But mascot love is unconditional, and despite my mechanical failures Axle and Roscoe were their to buoy my spirits.

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Nonetheless, I thought it would be best to lay low for a bit so I proceeded to the right field corner for the national anthem.

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Oh say can you see?

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And, well, alright! The game was finally underway, and it took me less than 900 words to get to this point in the narrative. Still out in right field, I recorded a Vine video in order to provide a little game day ambiance.

I am new to Vine, and Vine is new to the world, so there are kinks to be worked out on all sides. However — it is a fun and easy to use app that I plan on incorporating into my content from now on, and I hope that MLBlogs will soon allow its users to embed these looping six second videos on the blog. In the meantime I will link to them when applicable, and if you follow me on Twitter — @BensBiz — then you’ll have immediate real-time access.

It was a Wednesday night ballgame, the first of the homestand, and the crowd was about par for the course for a mid-week ballgame played during the school year. To use a car analogy, since car talk so prevalent here in Bowling Green: the  team’s return home represents turning the ignition, and then each game of the homestand represents shifting into a higher gear, and, therefore, this game was first gear and…okay, that’s terrible. Just look at some pictures. That’s all anyone cares about, right?

Pictures.

So here you go. Look at these pictures, while I attempt to rally from yet another bout of writerly self-pity.

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From the bold marketing minds that brought you “College Football Playoffs.”

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The ice cream immediately melted in Axle’s presence:

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I must have passed this dude five or six times on the concourse. He was always carrying the compact disc player, always engrossed in the music. I wonder what he was listening to.

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Off of the concourse and on to the field, here’s Hot Rods manager Jared Sandberg coaching third base:

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Sandberg, former Tampa Bay Devil Ray and nephew of Ryne, is, so far as I know, the only manager to ever tweet about one of my ballpark visits. 

https://twitter.com/jlsofoly/status/332165602728886272

Why is that tweet not embedding? Why is it a good idea for me to waste 30 minutes on trying to correct this? Point is, Sandberg’s tweet expressed mock frustration because he “missed out on free food and tix” that the Hot Rods were offering to  my designated eater that evening.

Yes! This was the debut of the designated eater, as from here on in I will be recruiting someone at all of my ballpark stops to eat the gluten-free cuisine that I cannot. As I wrote on MiLB.com:

The Hot Rods held a contest on their Facebook page to find Wednesday’s designated eater and selected season-ticket holders Randy and Donna Brown. The Browns have been married for 34 years — he’s a maintenance worker at a local factory and she an office manager at Christian Family Radio — and their relationship dates back to their late teenage years. At that time, Donna worked at Wendy’s and Randy at a steak restaurant.

“It was the best of both worlds, and we haven’t slowed down since!” said Donna of their employment situations at the time.

Clearly, these were the right people for the job. Sitting in the Stadium Club bar and lounge area, located on the second level behind home plate, Randy and Donna were soon presented with BBQ Pork Nachos and, more significantly, the Grand Slam Burger.

Randy, with nachos.

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Donna, more demure, with the Grand Slam Burger:

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Clearly, this grand slam burger deserves another look:

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More from my MiLB.com piece:

[T]he Grand Slam Burger consists of “two grilled hamburgers served with cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion and spicy BBQ sauce between two glazed doughnuts.”

“It’s delicious — a combination of flavors that is really unique,” said Donna. “It’s a sweet burger, if that makes sense, and strikes a really good balance. I would recommend it!”

The happy couple, post-meal, photo-bombed by Axle and Roscoe:

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My thanks to the Browns, who were both very good-natured and engaging and got this whole ridiculous “designated eater” concept off to a great start.

At this point, the night was upon us.

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After a brief stop in the restroom — always wash your hands! — I headed over to the radio booth for an inning with number two broadcaster Chris Kleinhans-Schulz. My puns were quite plentiful, my insight quite lacking.

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Hey, look, you’ve all come to see pictures and instead I’ve written over 1500 words, all of them gratuitous. Time to shut it down, similar to how the Hot Rods were shut down by the visiting Whitecaps.

Ballgame…

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over.

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Wednesday night being what it is, I didn’t catch Bowling Green Ballpark in its full splendor. But this is a great front office operating in a great stadium in what seems to be a great town. I certainly enjoyed my time here and, apropos of nothing, on the way out noticed this really awesome looking advertisement.

Aesthetically pleasing!

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benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

 

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