Results tagged ‘ Southern Swing ’

On the Road: The Drive Ends In Greenville

drive logo.gifWelcome to the final installment of my 2010 “Southern Swing”. Being on the road was a most gratifying experience, and I hope to do it again as soon as possible. If you enjoyed the content that I provided, then please make this sentiment known within the all-important court of public opinion.

After visiting the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum on Sunday, I sauntered across the street to Fluor Field (no one walks in South Carolina — they saunter). This facility, built in 2006, boasts an all-brick exterior that fits well with the rest of the neighborhood (before going any further, let me note that a complementary Greenville article can be found HERE). 

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I’d like to back up my above claim by showing pictures from “the rest of the neighborhood”, an area that serves as a link to Greenville’s textile mill past. Here’s one of the many churches that dot the area:

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I don’t know about you, but I could certainly use some brain tonic about now:

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The team’s ticket office/team store is located in a separate building, a structure that at one time served as one of South Carolina’s first firehouses:

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The industrial past is also illuminated by the (still-active) train tracks that run outside of the building.

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But once stepping inside, thoughts of Fenway take over:

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The building beyond the left field wall offers rooftop seating, and the condominium portion of the structure (on the right) offers porches that look out onto the field.

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The 500 Club party area in right field:

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Drive general manager Mike deMaine provided me with a behind-the-scenes look at the facility.

The home clubhouse:

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Smaller visitor digs:

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Groundskeeper’s Shed:

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The high-tech production room, where masterpieces such as THIS are churned out on a regular basis.

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The Suite Life, on the inside and out:

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Upper Deck Party Area:

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And, finally, the Dugout Suite. deMain wanted to make clear that the Drive were the first team to feature such a thing, contrary to the claims of the Visalia Rawhide (“We’re first and best”, he said). I am happy to provoke a Dugout Suite war of words, so if Visalia or any neglected third parties would like to respond then I’m all ears.

The suite in question is available for group rentals, and features a private food and beverage area as well as a lounge with views of the Drive’s hitting cage.

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As the pictures above would indicate, I didn’t actually see a game at Fluor Field. Sunday’s matinee contest began at 4, and my flight from the Greenville/Spartanburg airport was scheduled to leave at 5:30.

So, after my stadium tour, I climbed into my rented Mercedes-Benz with Texas plates for what would be the last time and proceeded to the airport (stopping on the way for a pouch of microwavable boiled peanuts).

While I wouldn’t call the Southern Swing “fun” (the schedule was fairly relentless and I am far too prone to bouts of anxiety), it was deeply rewarding and I am very glad I got the chance to do it. Thanks for reading, and here’s to many more Minor League road trips!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com
twitter.com/bensbiz

On The Road: The Banned Plays On In Greenville

Shoeless_museumsign.JPGA series of plane trips, bus rides, and subway jaunts on Sunday evening eventually returned me to the comforting embrace of New York City.

But the “Southern Swing” is not done! I’ve got more material, and where there is material there is hope. Yesterday in Greenville, SC I was able to visit the city’s formidable 1-2 baseball punch: The Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum and Fluor Field. Although not affiliated with one another, these two national pastime establishments are located on opposite sides of the same street and well worth visiting.

Today’s post — and article! — will focus on the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum, while tomorrow theShoeless_exteriorposter.JPG “Southern Swing” will finally wrap up with a tour of Fluor Field.

So, the first thing you need to know about Shoeless Joe is that he was raised in Greenville and later returned to the city. And the Museum is located in the blacklisted star’s former home — a brick structure that was chopped in half, re-located, renovated and refurbished.

Of course, this effort bears considerable similarity to the Mobile BayBears’ “Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum.” Perhaps the re-location of old baseball player domiciles will one day be a common practice around baseball; at the very least it would make a good reality show.

The Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum is an all-volunteer effort spearheaded by Arlene Marcley, who first became interested in Jackson after fielding numerous requests related to him while working in the Greenville mayor’s office. Currently, the museum is only officially open from 10-2 on Saturdays, but tours are available on request and readily accommodated. 

I received one such tour late Sunday morning, which I will now try to convey to you via copious photo documentation.

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The entire house is filled with Jackson memorabilia and period details (Jackson lived in the house with his wife from 1940 until his death in 1951).

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The whistle from the old Brandon textile mill. Young Joe worked at the mill, and played for the company’s baseball team. 

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The doors of the liquor store that Joe ran in Greenville:

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The kitchen is equipped with vintage appliances:

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The homey study is lined with baseball books — donated by museum supporters nationwide.

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And, as mentioned before — all of this is located across the street from Fluor Field (home of the Greenville Drive). I’ll have more on that beautiful structure tomorrow — you’d have to watch Shaquille O’Neal practice free throws in order to see more bricks in one place!

Leaving o
n a high note, as always.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com
twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Wrapping Up Rickwood

classic_mattlongonmound.JPGThe 15th annual Rickwood Classic was played today, with the visiting Tennessee Smokies eking out an 8-7 win over the Birmingham Barons. You can read all about it HERE, and while you’re there be sure to click on my first-ever photo gallery (of which I am very proud).

My “Southern Swing” must soon continue, but before moving on to Huntsville in my rented Mercedes-Benz with Texas plates (this is true), I’d like to leave you with some odds, ends, scraps and sods from my Birmingham experience.

Let’s start with this photo, taken from the roof of Rickwood Field with my trusty spy-cam. Press box sources had informed me that Josh Vitters of the Smokies had left his pants in his hotel room, and this certainly did appear to be the case:

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Take it from one who knows, Josh: nothing good can ever come from leaving your pants in a hotel room.

But my favorite photo from my Rickwood excursion is this one, for reasons that I will explain once you are done perusing it:

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Fans of juxtaposition should take note of Barons starter Matt Long, quietly stewing in his own juices in the bowels of the dugout while the rest of his teammates loiter carelessly atop roof while waiting for the game to start. But even more hilarious is ol’ #10 there, showing off a beautiful hour-glass figure rarely seen amongst baseball professionals.

I’d also like to say thanks to the various individuals who have provided me with Rickwoodrickbook.jpg information over the past several days. Noted sports scribe Allen Berra was kind enough to share several articles he has written about Rickwood, which informed my writing while whetting my appetite for his upcoming book on the iconic stadium. I’ll certainly be covering the release of this tome on MiLB.com, but get a head start by pre-ordering it on Amazon HERE.

Meanwhile, a reader by the name of Sam Hamm, a former Rickwood bat boy, sent me some inside info on the stadium:

In the ’80s, there was a big Mello Yello (?) sign above the mello.gifright field fence with a basketball hoop attached. A player hitting a ball in the hoop would win some prize. I’m pretty sure that Mike Laga did it once in ’82 or ’83. I remember Mark Smith hitting one that summer during BP, and everyone giving him a hard time because it did not count…Go out beyond the left field fence and pace the distance from the fence to the exterior cement wall. The scoreboard was in left-center then, about 370′, and about 25′ high. Beyond that it was maybe 50′ or more to the outfield wall. One of the jobs of batboys was to retrieve home run balls hit during BP. Every dollar counts. We’d sneak onto the field to shag balls sometimes, but generally had to chase down balls beyond the wall. That summer, Jose Canseco traveled with the Huntsville Stars, and he a ton of balls over the scoreboard and beyond the outer wall during BP. This was with soft BP balls and BP bats that were usually broken bats that had been taped up.

I’ve not been to Rickwood since the renovation, but be sure to get into the dugouts. I remember the paint being about 30 layers deep on every surface. There was not a true corner to be found.

While time was too short for me to obtain photos of ’80s Rickwood, I did make a point to drink two Mello Yellos at the Barons game on Tuesday evening (I also put in Donovan’s Greatest Hits on the car ride home).

I was able to take a photo of the oft-painted over dugout walls, however:

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And here, once again, is a photo that shows the discrepancy between the original and “new” outfield walls:

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This discrepancy was the subject of another reader email I recently received, this one from a woman by the name of Marcia Bullard:

I just read your story on Rickwood. I was fortunate to visit there a few years ago when mysnake.jpg daughter worked for the Barons. On the day we visited there was a high school tournament. We watched a bit of the game and then my daughter showed me around a bit. We were even able to go between the walls and see the back of the scoreboard and the outer wall. I seem to remember that straight away center was over 500 feet! There is a two-track that runs between the walls and to get into the scoreboard (it operates like the one at Wrigley) you have to climb a ladder. We were cautioned to stay on the track because there are snakes living in the grass! If you haven’t already, try to go between the walls. It really is an experience! 

And speaking of readers — I must give a shout-out to a man by the name of Larry Lefebvre. Not only did Larry recognize me at Rickwood despite not being a member of the industry (a professional first, to be identified by a baseball civilian!), he also recently sent me an email which warmed my heart to a considerable degree:

al.jpg“For the past two weeks my daughter has been singing Weird Al’s eBay song non-stop. She went on YouTube and discovered that this is not Weird Al’s only song; he has hundreds of them! After watching his videos for at least 30 minutes I heard her say to herself, ‘This guy is a genius!’”

It goes without saying that if YOU have anecdotes regarding emerging Weird Al fandom in America’s youth, then please contact me immediately so that I may spread the good word.

I suppose I should close with something baseball related, so let me just mention that it was an honor to meet Harmon Killebrew at Rickwood this afternoon. He was very friendly, unassuming, and soft-spoken, immediately making everyone feel at ease around him. I of course don’t know Harmon in any real way, but I walked away from our conversation absolutely convinced that he’s a genuinely nice guy (this was in stark contrast to another member of the 500 Home Run Club I recently met, a condescending and belittling individual whose name either rhymes with or is Reggie Jackson).

So before I shut things down for the night here at the good ol’ Birmingham-Hoover Microtel, here’s a picture of Harmon and the Barons just before the start of today’s Rickwood Classic:

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benjamin.hill@mlb.com
twitter.com/bensbiz
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