Results tagged ‘ Stockton Ports ’

On the Road: Asparagus, and much more, in Stockton

To see all posts from my August 2 visit to the Stockton Ports, click HERE. To see all posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

Joel Zamora and his son, Fernando, are Stockton natives. Joel is a union organizer now based out of Washington, D.C., while Fernando, an avid fisherman, works at a local Loew’s hardware store.

img_0082Joel and Fernando have attended Ports games for years, and have many memories based around their time spent together at Banner Island Ballpark. But on this particular August evening, they were able to enjoy a brand new experience. Joel and Fernando were designated eaters (the individuals recruited to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits).

As was the case three years ago, Nick Jackson of Ovations Food Services oversaw the designated eating experience. We began with Sriacha Fries, Baked Potato Fries and, for me, a gluten-free Chicken Caesar Salad.

img_0083The Zamoras began with the Baked Potato Fries, topped with bacon, sour cream, cheese and chives.

img_0084Have at it, father and son.

Joel praised the Baked Potato Fries as “very rich and flavorful” while Fernando said they were “filling, with good bacon flavor.”

Next up were the Sriacha Fries, topped with Parmesan and the titular hot sauce.

img_0085Fernando said that he could taste both toppings equally but that, all in all, these were “more of a snack.”

“Yeah, these were more a snack,” Joel responded. “The Baked Potato Fries, they were more of a meal.”

My Chicken Caesar Salad, enlivened by lemon and Parmesan and generous strips of chicken, was easily a meal in and of itself. In the below photo, the girl sitting behind me is like, “Who is this idiot?”

img_0088As mentioned in my previous Ports posts, Stockton is the asparagus capital of the world. Thus, the Ports often offer asparagus-centric concession items. Deep-fried asparagus is available on a nightly basis and, on occasion, one can get an Asparagus Dog. It’s an Alpine Meats eight-inch hot dog, with an asparagus spear on each side.

The above tweet got an immediate reaction, almost all of it negative.

The Zamoras were undaunted, however.

img_0089“I can’t really taste the asparagus, and I’d prefer to have onions,” said Joel. “But I’ve been all over the country, just like you have, and Alpine is the best hot dog. And they’re made right here in Stockton.”

Fernando was all for the asparagus, saying that it gave the dog “an extra kick.”

“I must have liked that hot dog, because I finished it pretty quick,” concluded Joel.

Well, then how about some Pulled Pork Nachos?


“This is the first time I’ve had nachos,” said Joel. “I’m trying to get into it, but I’m more traditional. I think that the pulled pork takes away from the chip.”

This was, therefore, the lone item to result in a generational divide.

“I understand the concept,” replied Fernando. “I like it. The pulled pork is very flavorful.”

“See, I like the old stuff and he likes the new,” said Joel. “When it’s just cheese and jalapenos, you can taste the chips. You can taste the cheese.”

While father and son were bickering about nacho preference, I laid in to a gluten-free cheeseburger that had been presented to me like a gift from the gods. Never have I looked better.

img_2240Joel and Fernando moved on to the Naan Pizza. There was a bit of kitchen confusion regarding just what was in the Naan Pizza, and whether it was gluten-free, so I don’t feel comfortable going into any specifics. But here’s what it looks like. It’s all about the visuals anyway.

img_0093“The bread’s good, it’s not overcooked and it has a perfect crunch to it,” said Joel.

“Yeah, and there’s not too much sauce. It tastes homemade,” added Fernando.

Once again, Joel and Fernando were able to present a unified front. The great nacho argument of 2016 was already a distant memory.

img_0094As the Zamoras finished their pizza, I obtained a Volcano Splash drink. These are available at the aptly named Volcano Splash stand, provided by an outside vendor. It’s really amazing what dry ice can do to a beverage.

While I was lost in a fog, Joel and Fernando moved on to a dessert of their own.

img_0095As you can see, Fernando’s a chip(wich) off the old block.

img_0096“I’d highly recommend the Baked Potato Fries, the Sriacha Fries, the ice cream and the pizza,” said Joel, summing up his experience.

“My favorite was the the Naan Pizza, the hot dog and the Pulled Pork Nachos,” said Fernando. “I definitely found some new favorites.”

Joel had to leave before the ballgame was over, but Fernando stuck around. It’s a good thing he did, as I remembered that I was in possession of my brand-new official designated eater t-shirts. Fernando became the first recipient.

I’d write Zamora if I could, but that’s all I’ve got. Thanks to Joel and Fernando.


On the Road: Song and Dance in Stockton

To see all posts from my August 2 visit to the Stockton Ports, click HERE. To see all posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

AUGUST 2 (part two) — Could August 2, 2016, possibly go down in history as the most entertaining and action-packed day in the history of Stockton, California?

“Yes,” I would humbly submit. “Yes.”

Kevin Hart may have slightly outdrawn the Ports on this Tuesday evening, but it was nonetheless a very enjoyable night at Banner Island Ballpark. The Ports were taking on the visiting Rancho Cucamonga Quakes — the only Minor League team in all of California that I have yet to visit. (Since they’re the Quakes, I’m sure they’ll find “fault” with my scheduling priorities.)


After spending a few innings with my designated eaters — that, of course, will be documented in the following post — I returned to the press box and logged time on the air with Ports broadcaster Zack Bayrouty.

I don’t know why I look like such a moron in this picture of Zack and I.

Zack was modeling what is known in the business as “broadcaster casual” apparel. His colleagues took note.

There was rarely a dull moment, on the air with Zack or during this Tuesday evening in general. Shortly after taking my leave from the airwaves, I emceed a “Knockerball” contest. These, for the record, are Knockerballs.

img_0100I have no record, and barely any recollection, of my stint as a Knockerball emcee. Just know that I was proudly following in the footsteps of Jerry Springer.

My subsequent stint as a t-shirt slingshot artist is also lost to time. My attempt to “Dance for my Dinner” has been documented for posterity, however. This was easily one of my top three moments of the 2016 season.

Later, I led the crowd in singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” I feel like, all things considered, I am a more talented man than Jerry Springer.

When not participating in between-inning shenanigans, I engaged in the usual: idle wanderings and random conversations.

This is Greg “Kool Papa” Bell, who first spent time at Banner Island Ballpark as a fan. He took an interest in the operation, one thing led to another, and now he’s the Ports’ leading salesperson.

img_2249 This bit of concourse signage explains what, to me, seems like a really good deal.

img_0105As the game wore on, I took the long view.

img_2256While I was in the outfield, a young man walked over and said that he recognized me from This young man was the Ports starting pitcher, James Naile, who had allowed two runs over 5 1/3 innings of work and was now watching the game in street clothes. He described himself as “an innings eater” who “moves around a lot,” and expressed a genuine love for the fact that Minor League Baseball allows him to meet people from all over the country and all walks of life. In my notes, I wrote that Naile is “a real positive guy.”

And he certainly isn’t in any one place for long. In 2016, Naile opened the season with Class A Beloit, where he made nine appearances. He then went to Triple-A Nashville for one start, then back to Beloit for one start, then back to Nashville for another start, then to Double-A Midland for two starts, then back to Beloit for five starts, then up to Class A Advanced Stockton for eight appearances before, finally, returning to Midland for one last start. All told, he went 9-11 with a 3.39 ERA over 28 appearances (26 starts). His ERA climbed along with the level of play (2.66 in Beloit, 3.76 in Stockton, 4.66 in Midland and 5.73 in Nashville). And this was all in his first full season! What a whirlwind.

James Naile: Well-traveled

James Naile: Well-traveled

Despite the sparse Tuesday night crowd, a positive energy prevailed at the ballpark. Between Naile, Kool Papa, blog readers Brian Bice and Pat King, designated eaters Joel and Fernando Zamora and, really, the entire Ports front office staff, I met a lot of friendly and interesting individuals. Despite the fact that it had only been three years since my last visit, it felt eminently worthwhile to be back in Stockton.

Once the game was over — a 3-2 Ports victory — and the fans had filed out, I still had one more thing to do. That thing, of course, was to write and disseminate a Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke. This particular joke references the Ports’ long-standing celebration of asparagus, as Stockton is the asparagus capital of the world.

Good night, Stockton.


On the Road: Splashing into Stockton

To see all posts from my August 2 visit to the Stockton Ports, click HERE. To see all posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

AUGUST 2 (part one) — After spending Monday evening in Sacramento, I spent my Tuesday in Stockton. The two cities are a mere 50 miles away from one another, so it was the logical thing to do. Or, maybe it was the least illogical. I had visited the Stockton Ports a mere three years ago, in 2013, but had little to no compunction about a return trip. There’s always more to see, more to learn and more to see. Redundancy is sexy.

The Ports play in Banner Island Ballpark.


Even though more than a decade has passed, there have been (read my lips) no new California League ballparks since Banner Island Ballpark opened in 2005. It is still the newest in the league. One thing I hadn’t realized is that “Banner Island Ballpark” is an “unofficial” name. Per Wikipedia, “The City of Stockton owns the naming rights of the ballpark and until the rights are sold the stadium is officially known as Stockton Ballpark.”

Banner Island has a long professional baseball history, as the Ports website points out:

The Banner Island area is allegedly the home of the Stockton baseball team which played in the late 1800s, in an area known as “Mudville” along the San Joaquin River. Banner Island was once an island in the San Joaquin River delta. Although the area is no longer an island, the name remains.

Yes, Stockton’s 19th-century baseball team played in the “Mudville” area. Some have speculated that Ernest Thayer’s classic poem Casey at the Bat” takes place in Stockton, and I found this theory intriguing. So much so that, immediately upon arriving at the park, Ports general manager Bryan Meadows and I took a field trip to the local Haggin Museum to find out more. You can read about that visit HERE.


archival materials

Upon our return to the ballpark, I took a nice late afternoon stroll around the concourse. The Stockton Arena can be seen looming beyond left field; that evening, the arena would be playing host to comedian Kevin Hart.

img_0068Moving down the first base line, this was the view.

img_0069The area directly behind the ballpark has yet to be developed.

img_0070After rotating my body 180 degrees, I was presented with the following view:

img_0071Stockton is the self-proclaimed “Asparagus Capital of the World.” At the team store, I obtained a t-shirt featuring the Ports’ alternate “Five O’Clock Dock” asparagus logo.

img_0072The Ports’ “Asparagus Night” promo is one of the 10 nominees in this year’s “Promo of the Year” MiLBY category. In 2011, the team won “Promo of the Year” for their Dallas Braden bobblebelly.

Braden, a Stockton native and former Port who pitched a perfect game as a member of the Oakland Athletics, remains a ballpark hero. His number 50 has been retired by the team, though it looks like some big jerk of an outfielder scuffed up this tribute to Braden via inconsiderate spike usage.

img_0074In the Ports bullpen, there has been a long tradition of writing the names of each season’s occupants along the walls. The 2012 team must have been the first in history to feature two relievers named “Doolittle.”

img_0075As the gates opened, I paid a visit to my pal Splash.

In the press box, I met PA announcer Mike Conway. Mike, who has held this position since 2008, proudly displayed his wide gum selection. He always has an ample supply of gum.

img_0079One of Mike’s PA announcer highlights was reading this marriage proposal. Unfortunately, Becca was a no-show at the ballgame.

img_0080As game time drew near, I returned to the warm embrace of my buddy Splash.

img_1844As is often the case, I had been asked to throw out a first pitch.

img_1868With the fond memories of a perfect strike whizzing across the plate (and subsequently fending off the entreaties of scouts interested in signing me), I’ll end this blog post. Of course, there’ll be much more to come from Stockton.


About Last Night: Stockton Ports, August 2, 2016

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll write a quick blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, when I return home, I’ll provide the multifaceted blog coverage that you have come to know and perhaps even love. On Tuesday night I visited Stockton, California, the second stop on my sprawling 10-team California-Nevada-Idaho-Washington road trip.

August 2: Stockton Ports (Class A Advanced affiliate of the Oakland A’s)

Opponent: Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, 7:10 p.m. game time

Banner Island Ballpark, from the outside: 

IMG_0076Banner Island Ballpark, from within: 

IMG_0068Culinary Creation: Stockton is the apsaragus capitol of the world. Thus, the Asparagus Dog.


Ballpark Character: Greg “Kool Papa” Bell, Ports fan turned #1 Ports salesman.


At Random: Truly, I can do it all.

Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: 

Up Next: 

August 3: Modesto Nuts (vs. Visalia, 7:05 p.m.)

August 4: San Jose Giants (vs. Modesto, 6:30 p.m.)

August 5: Visalia Rawhide (vs. Inland Empire, 7:00 p.m.)

August 6: Las Vegas 51s (vs. Fresno, 7:05 p.m.)

August 8: Reno Aces (vs. Salt Lake, 7:05 p.m.)

August 10: Boise Hawks (vs. Hillsboro, 7:15 p.m.)

August 11: Tri-City Dust Devils (vs. Spokane, TBD)

August 12: Spokane Indians (vs. Eugene, 6:30 p.m.)


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

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

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


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

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


My core musical tastes, circa 1989:


My core musical tastes, circa 1999:


Cassettes for a quarter:


Buyer Beware:


Finally, a gluten-free pop artist:


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

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


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


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



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

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


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


Beyond Bigfoot:





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


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


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



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



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



Also featured: archaic equipment and pop culture detritus.



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


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


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




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

I hope that makes sense.

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



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




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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

There’s a lot going on.

Return to the Road: From One Record Store to Another

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

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


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

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


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

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


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




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

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


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



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


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

Traveling Through the Annals of Time and Space

The reasons that I write this blog are multifaceted, and hopefully you read it for multifaceted reasons as well. But, since the beginning, one of the primary reasons for its existence has been to highlight new ideas within the world of Minor League Baseball. Therefore, I’d like to share a very cool new idea with you:

The Stockton Ports have a new page on their website that allows fans to browse through an assortment of game day programs and scorecards from the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s. Currently 12 such historical documents have been uploaded, using a digital publishing platform called Issuu. Click on the above link for access to all 12 documents; what follows is my attempt to embed a game day program from 1969. Wish me luck!

I am now operating under the assumption that the above embed was successful. (I won’t know for sure until I hit “publish.”) Regardless, please know that page eight of the game day program which you may or may not see above contains a picture of Ron Shelton when he was a member of the Ports. Shelton has gone on to a successful career as a movie director, and, surely, his time in Stockton must have had some influence on his 1988 classic Bull Durham. 

And surely, the Ports’ decision to share historic team publications in an easy-to-access manner will have a wide influence on the world of Minor League Baseball. Those things are really fun to look at, and the ads alone are worth the price of admission.

Note: I am now aware that my embed attempt was unsuccessful. Please know that I tried, and please click on the above link. 

My segue game is weak today, but here goes: while the above Ports’ initiative involves that which occurred a long time ago, the below photo involves something THAT NEVER HAPPENED AT ALL.

Mr. Freedman, a long-time contributor to my criminally overlooked “Crooked Numbers” column, tweeted the above picture because the Toledo Mud Hens were in fact the losers of the 2006 Championship Showdown. (As all sports fans know, the Tucson Sidewinders beat Toledo by a score of 4-2.) This makes that t-shirt the Minor League Baseball equivalent of Chicago Bears Super Bowl XLI Champions apparel, which is almost certainly being worn somewhere in Africa as I type this.


Photo: World Vision

My segue game is now non-existent. In fact:

nosegwayHere’s a video. It made me laugh.


Finally, here’s a link to an interview I did recently. I never say no to interview requests, so get in touch if you’re into that sort of thing.

On the Road: Concluding a Banner Island Day in Stockton

Part One of this rambling Stockton blog saga began hours before game time amid Highway 4 farmland, and then proceeded all the way until said game began at Banner Island Ballpark.


Let’s zoom in for a closer look.


In the above photo, beyond the small squadron of retired jerseys, stands Ports president Pat Filippone. Filippone has reached the MiLB mountaintop by having a concession stand item named after him (the Filippone Salad, as you may recall from the last post), and I am holding out hope that, one day, a team may see fit to offer a gluten-free “Ben’s Biz Burger.”

I momentarily forced such egocentric concerns out of my mind, in favor of the task at hand: wandering. After about 25 seconds of such, I found myself in the company of this triumvirate of gentlemen.


These guys were on the concourse extolling the virtues of Tapgift, a Redwood City-based start-up whose product allows its users to send and receive gifts in real time. The Ports are the first Minor League team to have partnered with Tapgift, meaning that users can buy concession items for people at the game even if they themselves are not there.

In the above photo, on the far right, stands Mack Cage. In addition to having the toughest-sounding name of anyone I have ever met, Cage co-founded the company. He told me that the idea for Tapgift came about when he and his friends were at a Raiders game, wondering how they could make an absent friend “pay for the beer we’re drinking.”

“That was the genesis of it,” he continued. “I didn’t think we’d actually do it.”

But do it they did, and shortly after talking to Cage I received a Tapgift presenting me with peanuts and a soda. Pretty cool concept, I must say. There have been over 3,000 Tapgift downloads at Banner Island Ballpark this season, and San Jose State football is next on the docket.


Next up on the docket was to meet with “designated eater” Lee McEachern, who had been recruited to consume some of the ballpark delicacies that my gluten-free diet prohibits. Lee, a long-time reader, hod volunteered for designated eating duties because it was “a chance to meet the famous blogger Benjamin Hill…and fried asparagus.”

We’ll get to that fried asparagus eventually. But first, here’s Lee, shortly after meeting famous blogger Benjamin Hill.


And, yes, Lee is a Giants fan and his Cal League affinities lie with San Jose. The Ports are an A’s affiliate as well as inter-division rivals with San Jose, and as such Lee’s food should have been poisoned.

Joining Lee was his neighbor Jamie, a music major at Chico State who says that, due in part to Lee’s influence, she is now “a baseball freak.”

094“I’m checking scores all of the time, checking in on my favorite players,” said Jamie. “I’m a big Jeff Arnold fan. He’s my boy.”

This is Arnold’s picture on his player page. I think he’s now my favorite player too.

San Jose catcher Jeff Arnold

San Jose catcher Jeff Arnold

The three of us got acquainted in this shaded Banner Island Ballpark locale.


And soon enough, food appeared. Clockwise from the top, we have a turkey burger on a wheat bun, nacho cheese pretzel burger, fruit cup, and a Caesar wedge salad.

097Those latter two options were gluten-free, and the Caesar wedge was of particular interest to me. You squeeze lemon on the wedge, dip it in the dressing and then sprinkle on Parmesan cheese — a nice mix of flavors, and yet another example of something I never would have paid attention to in my pre-gluten-free days but that is, in actuality, really quite enjoyable!

But, anyway, gluten:


“The nacho pretzel burger is surprisingly good, the burger’s juicy and the bun is soft,” said Lee.

“It is surprisingly good,” said Jamie. “I didn’t think that the nacho cheese would work well with it, but it does.”


The turkey burger generated a less enthusiastic response.


“The turkey seems too salty,” said Lee. “I’m not trying to sound rude here, but it’s like it they know it’s bland and they’re trying to liven it up with too much seasoning.”

“I agree,” said Jamie. “It tasted kind of funny.”

“I have a wrap posed for you,” added Lee.

And what do you know? He did:


“[The wrap] is really good, but it could use a little more even distribution,” said Lee. “As it is, it’s like ‘here’s the meat, and here’s the vegetables.”


But there wasn’t time for further pontificating, because — what? — more food had arrived and this time it was of a deep-fried variety.


What we’ve got here is not a failure to communicate but, rather, three more specialty items. From left to right: deep fried cheesecake (typically only available after the seventh inning), deep-fried asparagus, and a deep-fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

The asparagus, served with hot sauce, ranch dressing, and Parmesan, is a Ports specialty that I longed to try and maybe I did just a little bit please don’t tell the gluten-free police.


Jamie was decidedly in the pro-asparagus camp, but Lee, ever the critic, was conflicted.

“I love asparagus, but I’m not sure it lived up to the hype. I came in with my expectations too high,” he said. “But it’s something that you have to get if you’re here, just to say that you’ve had it.”


The deep-fried peanut butter and jelly drew a bit of a confused response, with Jamie saying it was “interesting” and “something to have once” but that “the texture of the peanut butter and jelly has changed from being fried.”

The interior:


The cheesecake was received rapturously, however, with Lee stating that it was “a winner — warm, melty, gooey, and perfectly fried.”


And the hits just kept on a comin’! For post-dessert, Lee and Jamie were served deep-fried pickles (or “frickles”) and buffalo popcorn chicken. Man, this looked good.


Just keep eating, guys. It is your job.


“Frickles is just a weird word!” said Jamie.

“God, this is filling,” said Lee. “But they do know how to fry here. It’s crispy and not too greasy.”

At this juncture a hearty thanks should be given to Nick Jackson of Ovations food services, who coordinated this never-ending stream of fine concession items. I’d also like to commend Lee, who perfectly followed my instruction to “bite into a frickle so that the frickle looks like Pac-Man and then hold this Pac-frickle in front of you while closing your eyes.”


And then, finally, there was this. A brat. It seemed to show up out of nowhere.


The brat afforded Lee with one final opportunity make photographic history.


“Don’t order a brat after a pretzel burger, turkey burger, buffalo popcorn, cheesecake….” said Lee, before fading into a a brief bout of incoherence. “This is great, though. Maybe even better than the pretzel burger.”

“What?!” replied Jamie, giving me an excuse to use my favorite non-standard punctuation mark.

I let them argue that one out among themselves, as I had places to go and people to see. This concession cavalcade had taken some time to digest, and the game was now half over.


My next order of business was to compete in an outfield “MVP Catch,” which entailed standing in right field and attempting to catch balls launched via slingshot with a net. I felt an added pressure while doing this, because I had just been informed of the various celebrities who were watching me.

And, yes, I failed in front of Mr. Steckler and Ms. Jensen (adult entertainer, model, actress, friend, believer). I should have recruited Mr. Steckler to document said failure, because this is all I’ve got.


123But there was no time for mourning. Remember in Part One of this post when I got that wild smoking “Volcano Splash” drink? This time around I stopped by for the Filipino snack known as Lumpia.

125Lumpia is the Filipino version of a spring roll, and I could not immediately ascertain whether or not it is gluten-free. I did give it a try, however, because it looked delicious and subsequently tasted delicious.

Also, I may or may not have fallen in love.

126But another obligation was imminent. One always is.


128During the seventh inning stretch, Splash and I threw packages of “Hello Panda” chocolate cream cookies into the crowd.



"You've got to catch that, bro."

“You’ve got to catch that, bro.”

With the evening winding down, I made a final lap around the ballpark. On the concourse I came across this photo of Stockton native-turned-Ports pitcher-turned-perfect game hurler Dallas Braden.


In case you forgot — Braden has Stockton’s area code tattooed on his abdomen.


Photo by, yes, George Steckler

Night views:



142And let it be known: Tabasco Fried Asparagus is a thing!


In the ninth inning I joined indefatigable ballpark travelers Rex and Coco (who appeared in Part One of this post), and watched the end of the ballgame from their visiting dugout vantage point.


Ballgame complete, Rex took a photo and Coco tallied up her scorecard. That’s how they roll.


And, whoa, I would have forgotten, but Rex reminded me to do a #cupdate.

All you #cupdate fans out there should be grateful to Rex for his collectible cup vigilance.



And that’s all I’ve got, folks. Time to pull up the anchor and move on. I hope that I have been able to convey that Banner Island Ballpark is a very nice place to see a ballgame. That’s all you need to know, really.

photo: Joe Price

photo: Joe Price

On the Road: By Land and By Sea in Stockton

Usually, when writing these “On the Road” reports, I begin with my arrival at the stadium in question. But in the case of Stockton, let’s back things up a bit. This dispatch is instead going to begin with my arrival in the town of Stockton itself, as before heading to the ballpark I met with Stockton sports development director Tim Pasisz for brief tour of the city.

I wrote about this tour in an piece, along with some mild editorializing about how every city, no matter how embattled or beleaguered, is worth visiting. This fundamental belief has guided my approach to this job, and is one of the reasons that I like Minor League Baseball to the degree that I do: it helps contextualize American travels, giving one the impetus to visit places that they otherwise wouldn’t.  I will spare you any further editorializing however, in lieu of that which you came to see.



That probably wasn’t the first image you’d expect to see in this post, but it shows the fertile Central Valley farmland that is in abundance just outside of Stockton proper. Said farmland is just a short drive away from the largest inland port in the country, whose existence has, of course, provided the inspiration for the name of the city’s Minor League Baseball team.


Meanwhile, the combination of the city’s agricultural and nautical features has resulted in this alternate logo, in which a dockworker (Five O’Clock Dock, if you want to get specific) brandishing a piece of asparagus.


Putting the “pee” in Ports

Hence, offerings such as the following are served at the Ports’ current home of Banner Island Ballpark.


We’ll get to such things a bit later on (as in, the next post) but first let’s take a look at the facility that the Ports competed within before moving to their aforementioned current home of Banner Island Ballpark.


That’s Billy Hebert Field, named after the first professional baseball player killed in action during WWII. The Ports played here from 1953-2004, but even in the absence of Minor League Baseball the stadium is still thriving. It is currently leased out to a private company that rents it out for amateur baseball and softball tournaments and the turf, it is artificial.



Located nearby is the idyllic campus of the University of the Pacific. The campus’s Burns Tower is an impressive edifice, but as an alum of the University of Pittsburgh I have to say that it’s no Cathedral of Learning.


Across the way is the Morris Chapel, which has a mammoth wedding wait list. Basically, if you want to get married here, book it now and then hope that you’ve got somebody when the day comes. (I booked myself for November 2015, ladies, so let me know if you want to get in on that.)


But such a cart-before-the-horse mentality is erroneous, To get your mind right, head to Stockton’s gritty industrial southeast quadrant and visit the Wat Dharmararam Cambodian Buddhist Temple. I was only here long enough to get a superficial sense of what was going on, but, basically, moments from the life of the Cambodian Buddha are told via a series of boldly-colored larger-than-life statue vignettes.

This was one of the most unique places I’d ever visited whilst out here “on the road.”






Consider that surreal spectacle the appetizer. The main course, as it always is on this blog, is Minor League Baseball. Banner Island Ballpark is located along the Stockton marina waterfront, adjacent to the Stockton Arena.

038The Stockton Arena is the home of the ECHL’s Stockton Thunder. Did you know that ECHL used to stand for “East Coast Hockey League” but is now an “orphan initialism” in that it stands for nothing at all? Other examples of “orphan initialism” include AT&T and ESPN and you heard it here first: if I ever have the wherewithal to start a record label, I’m naming it “Orphan Initialism.”

Marina scenes:




Beyond Banner Island Ballpark lies this undeveloped expanse, as good a comment as any on the economic paralysis that seized Stockton in the wake of the 2007 collapse.


The light, log and barrier are part of a conceptual art piece entitled “Do Not Pass Go.” My interpretation was that modernity (the lamppost) and traditional agrarian means of subsistence (the log) are blocked from reaching their potential by the myriad challenges currently facing the city (the barrier). But if and when they find a way around it, then the sky’s the limit.

The above paragraph is, of course, not true. But what is true is that I headed westward, working my way around the stadium’s perimeter in search of more and better vantage points.

043There were impromptu gatherings all along the waterfront, such as the following.


Among those gathered were members of the Ports’ Silver Sluggers club, doing a little tailgating in the shadow of abandoned factories.




Somehow, in my mania to get close to the illuminated edifice that is Banner Island Ballpark, I neglected to get a shot of the exterior. The next shot on my virtual photo roll is this, featuring fellow Minor League travelers Rex and Coco Doane.


Rex and Coco, like myself, are based in Brooklyn. But here we were in Stockton on separate road trips, similar to that time in 2011 when we were in Winston-Salem on separate road trips.

(Shortly after this picture was taken, Rex let it be known that legendary b-movie director/producer Russ Meyer is buried in Stockton! Breast In Peace, Russ Meyer, the next time I visit Stockton I will be sure to make a pilgrimage.)

 I may have neglected Banner Island Ballpark’s exterior, but I had the interior covered.


Shortly after arriving at the ballpark, I met up with Ports senior director of marketing Jeremy Neisser. Jeremy has been a strong supporter of the Ben’s Biz empire over the years, providing me with content related to my two all-time favorite topics: sexagenarian boxing and abdomen-based area code tattoos. So when he told me that he had something to show me, I knew that it would be in line with my sensibilities.

We proceeded through a vast expanse of cultivated greenery, and then beyond the outfield fence.



And then, lo and behold, there it was: the Banner Island Ballpark Bullpen Memorial. Written upon this concrete wall are the names of every Ports players who has ever been a member of the bullpen, with a star indicating an eventual Major Leaguer.




But at the moment that I was out there were no players to be found. Just detritus.


Remember, Ports fans: dial #1947 for all your bullpen needs.


Above the bullpen, there is a quality group seating area.


The above location would be a good spot to enjoy some Kinder’s BBQ and,  as you can see, one of the options is a salad named after Ports president Pat Filippone. That salad sounds pretty good, and has a fairly high gluten-free probability.


But perhaps a better location to enjoy BBQ would be this, which I’m going to go ahead and name the “Kinder Garden.”


Awkward manchild alert!


I emerged from this siesta in time to see a lone player make the desolate walk from the clubhouse.


He went his way, I went mine, and within moments I came across this most unique concession stand.


Run by a very friendly Filipino family (my notes are somehow devoid of their name), this kiosk is highlighted by the dry ice-based “Volcano Splash.” They insisted I try one, and who was I to disagree?


This is a rare drink, in that its “fun facts” could double as a high school chemistry lecture.


If he was back in the confines of Bakersfield’s Sam Lynn Stadium, Blaze announcer Dan Besbris probably would have been smoking and drinking right along with me. But in Stockton, he was on his best behavior.


I was in the press box in order to do a pre-game interview with Besbris’s Stockton counterpart, Mr. Zack Bayrouty. Here he is bracing himself for the night’s action.


In exchange for doing the interview, I received this gift.


“e no-alez in Sacramento ounce,” reports insane man

And, don’t worry, there’s plenty where that came from. Next to five boxes of “Hello Panda,” one could find nine boxes of Stauffer’s Animal Crackers.


“That’s the best [sponsorship] deal that Minor League Baseball has ever done,” Bayrouty told me, pointing toward the boxed bounty. “Those have provided snacks for all of the broadcasters.”

That’s all well and good, but for my part I would rather have been given an inflatable bottle of Tabasco.


Inflatables in the press box were joined by inflatables in the background, as various Ports warmed up prior to the ballgame.


I was on the field in order to add to my impressive string of first pitch failure. After bouncing it in Modesto, this one was high and away.


Fleeing the scene: 082



Splash liked my first pitch, but only because Splash has never not liked anything in the history of being Splash.

084 For those keeping score at home: three nights in a row I threw out a first pitch, and three nights in a row the “Star-Spangled Banner” was sung by professor Joe Price.



Joe did better with his anthem rendition than I did with my first pitch.

“I’d give myself an A- on that one,” he said. “There were three notes where my pitch was off.”

And with that, there was nothing left to do but “Play Ball!”


There will soon be a Part Two of this post and, wouldn’t you know it? It’s going to pick up right where this one left off.

Asparagus: The Details

As this will be the last post of November, I may as well lead it off with the topic that always dominates this soon-to-be-expired stretch of the calendar: new logos. It was helpfully pointed out to me earlier this week that I had neglected this recent entry to the alternate logo canon. And what an entry it is:

This one’s courtesy of the Stockton Ports, who will sport this character on their cap during each and every Friday home game next season. The team explains thusly:

The Ports new logos honor Stockton’s heritage as the largest in-land port in California and the Asparagus Capital of the World. A new character, 5 O’clock Dock, is the centerpiece of the identity, brandishing his baseball tattoos and asparagus club.

My favorite line in the press release, however, is the one that notes that the Ports have become “the first professional sports team to use Asparagus green.” Congrats on that accomplishment, guys, but considering the team name and asparagus theme I am disappointed by the failure to incorporate an aromatic “P.”

In other California League headwear news, the Lake Elsinore Storm announced last month that they are now selling 20th anniversary throwback hats that commemorate the team’s original look.

The Storm’s current “eye” logo has long been one of the most popular marks in Minor League Baseball, and that logo can be traced back to designs such as the above. (The eyes used to be part of a larger “Storm” motif, see?) Perhaps that’s a lesson for other clubs — take a particularly striking element of your current logo, then isolate and amplify. Sometimes a minimalist approach can work wonders.

I’ve been posting less videos on this blog than I have in the past, partially because Twitter has become a good forum for that and partially because watching too many of them makes me feel as if my life is slipping away in slow motion right before my eyes.

But, that said, I wanted to single out this recent Fresno Grizzlies production because it is one of the best videos I have seen in quite some time. For one, it highlights a simple and memorable trick that should be part of every mascot playbook. For two, the production is great. (That is certainly not a given when it comes to team-released offseason videos.)


Was the fan who got his hat stolen planted there by the team? Almost certainly. Does it matter? Not at all.

And since I’m posting videos, how ’bout this? In Pensacola, the Blue Wahoos have transformed their ballpark into a so-called “Winter Wonderland.” That’s not easy to do in the Florida panhandle!

Skating rink, toboggan slide, jumbo board games, Santa Claus, and more:


Finally, I’ll close with the following: the basketball trick shot dudes of Dude Perfect visited Frisco’s Dr Pepper Ballpark because of course they did. All of human history has led us to this moment.

And that’s all I’ve got for today. I’ll see you in Nashville next week, should you be in Nashville next week.