Results tagged ‘ Stockton Ports ’

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.

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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.

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My core musical tastes, circa 1989:

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My core musical tastes, circa 1999:

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Cassettes for a quarter:

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Buyer Beware:

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Finally, a gluten-free pop artist:

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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).

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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.)

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

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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.

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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.

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Beyond Bigfoot:

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

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

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

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

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

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Also featured: archaic equipment and pop culture detritus.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.”

What?!

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.

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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.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: From One Record Store to Another

I’ve spent the past several days working on season-opening content for MiLB.com, 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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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?

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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.

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My time exploring the city with Pasisz was chronicled in this MiLB.com 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?

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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…

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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.

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Photo: World Vision

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

nosegwayHere’s a video. It made me laugh.

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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.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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.

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Let’s zoom in for a closer look.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 MiLB.com 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.

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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:

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“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.”

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The turkey burger generated a less enthusiastic response.

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“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:

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“[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.”

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

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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.

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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.”

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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:

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

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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.

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Just keep eating, guys. It is your job.

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“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.”

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

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

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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

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"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.

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

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Photo by, yes, George Steckler

Night views:

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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 MiLB.com 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.

Pictures!

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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.

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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.

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Putting the “pee” in Ports

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.”

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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:

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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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.

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

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Awkward manchild alert!

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

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

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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?

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

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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.

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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.

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

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“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.

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“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.

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

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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.

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Fleeing the scene: 082

Apprehended:

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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.

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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!”

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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.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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.)

watch?v=vciUTJruLdk&list=UUwivBU_T238VXsk2Kn0dqDA&feature=plcp

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:

watch?v=lnk5UkapEBo&list=UUhxFRSBTWX4fjt5addCXz4A&index=2&feature=plcp

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.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Undead? More like “Fundead”

Halloween is just one week away, so today’s post on the Mahoning Valley Scrappers’ August 30th “Zombie Survival Night” works on two fronts: In addition to being the latest in my seemingly never-ending series of posts detailing 2012 promotions, it is also seasonally apropos!

Family-friendly entertainment at the ol’ ballyard, that’s what this was:

Details on this internal-organs-consuming promotion were provided by Scrappers marketing and promotions intern Annie Stoltenberg, who has since returned to school at Texas A&M.

“Anyone dressed as a Zombie got in free,” wrote Stoltenberg. “It was also our ‘Buck Night’ with $1 tickets, $1 hotdogs and $1 12oz beer and drinks!”

That’s her on the right, zombie appearance obtained via the following method: “They applied a latex mask and then makeup, fake blood, painted our teeth, and had us gargle with fake blood to alter our appearance.  We tore and ripped our own clothes.”

GD Effects – Special Effects Makeup provided staff and fans alike with a look that just screamed “zombie.”

More like “Die Orange”

Stoltenberg notes that “Zombie music” was played throughout the game on the concourse, but this could have been any number of things. The Zombies? White Zombie? The Cranberries’ “Zombie”? I would have used the occasion to blast this:

But anyway…Prior to the game, the team staged a “Pregame Zombie Crawl, led by the Last Ride Hearse.”

Between-inning games included zombies chasing the pony hoppers, a brain eating contest (featuring gummy brains), a zombie obstacle course, and zombie movie trivia.”Winners of said games were awarded “Zombie Survival Kits” featuring staples such as matches, flares, water bottles and batteries.

And, finally, “Zombie Survival Tips” from the movie Zombieland were posted around the concourse.

That’s all I’ve got, zombie-wise, but let’s keep this post rolling right along. Have you ever wanted to hear the earnest rapping efforts of a top pitching prospect? Well, then check THIS out. “This,” in this case, is the track “Let It All Go” by D-Backs right-hander Trevor Bauer.

Oh! And how about this? Let it be known that Mitt Romney fully endorses the Stockton Ports’ efforts to have fans sit on his face:

The letter is addressed to Ports director of marketing Jeremy Neisser, and reads in part: Your support is extremely encouraging, and while I maintain this busy travel schedule, it is nice to reflect on the generosity and thoughtfulness of individuals such as yourself.

If that isn’t worth raving about, then I don’t know what is. Take it away, Harrisburg Senators!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

The End is Near

I just wrote a big two paragraph introduction that, upon further reflection, was little more than anxiety-ridden self-indulgence. Who needs that noise? Forget all that, and let’s get to the good stuff. We now join this blog post, already in progress.

So many things have happened! Are happening! Will happen! All the time! I don’t know where to begin, but I do know when.

Now!

Last month, I gave ample virtual ink to the Stockton Ports’ “Presidential Seat Cushion” giveaway.

As I wrote at the time:

One side of the cushion features presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney, while the other is of Democratic incumbent Barack Obama. And the fans are being asked to sit on the face of the candidate that they do not support.

The promotion got a robust media response, and when the gates opened the fans were ready for some face sitting action. This elderly woman was handed her seat cushion by a banana:

On the other side of the age spectrum was this young fella, now traumatized for life due to prolonged exposure to presidential seat cushion caricature.

Meanwhile, this crew was all over the political spectrum.

Another notable June promotion, and one that I also featured prominently in Promo Preview, was the Frederick Keys’ “Six Months to the End of the World Night.” As the name would imply, it was an evening of apocalyptic proportions.

To the images!

Zombies abounded at the ballpark — as promotions manager Brandon Apter noted “We’re going to keep the emphasis on family fun, but that’s not very easy when there’s blood all over your face.”

“Take Me Out to the Ballbrain”

And how’s this for a deliciously morbid between-inning promotion? A “last meal” eating contest.

Apocalyptic imagery has been everywhere in recent weeks. If you haven’t seen this terrifying/hilarious video of a Tennessee Smokies tarp pull gone awry, then it’s well worth the short time it will take to rectify that.

122,000 views and counting for “Tarp-Nami” — and no one got hurt!

And then there was the storm that swept through Yakima on July 8, which wreaked havoc throughout the stadium. Boise Hawks broadcaster Mike Safford was a witness to the carnage, and sent along the following email:

Here is a look at Yakima’s BP cage after it took a wild ride down the street in last night’s thunderstorm…

It was found on Pacific Avenue in Yakima after the storm.

I’m not sure that anyone could have curtailed a calamitous event such as the above — not even Spiderman. Last I saw that guy, he was wandering around the visiting dugout during a Charlotte Knights game.

Photo: Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Sit Down, Man

Toward the end of the season, several teams are staging “Bobblection” promotions in which fans get to choose either an Obama or Romney bobblehead. Supplies are limited, and the evening’s winner is he whose bobblehead supply runs out first. I’ll certainly be covering these exercises in American democracy as they occur, but in the meantime let’s take a look at even more absurd promotion being staged by the Stockton Ports on June 15th.

Yes, fans will have the chance to sit on the face of either Obama or Romney. These items are unique pieces of political pop culture ephemera and should be valued as such, but the premise is admittedly a little confusing. The thinking here is that you would want to sit on the face of the candidate you DON’T support. Hence, the #SitOnMitt hashtag under Obama and the #BunsOnObama tag beneath Romney.

The promotion inspired a spirited discussion on the team’s Facebook page, with many fans arguing that baseball and politics just don’t mix. But one Kevin Rager delivered the most cogent remark: “in all honestly both are butt munchers,” he wrote.

Partisan politics have always been a fact of American life, but recently the Birmingham Barons hearkened back to a much less divisive era. The annual Rickwood Classic was held on Wednesday afternoon (in which the team returns to its old Rickwood Field home), and this year’s theme was WWII-era baseball. Check out the beautiful posters created for the event, which drew a lot of fan interest when I first posted them on Twitter:

and

And, more and more often, teams are staging promotions to eras that NEVER existed. On June 8th, the Northwest Arkansas Naturals’ “What Could’ve Been Night” will imagine a reality in which the team went by the name of “Thunder Chickens.”

These t-shirts will be available for this day only:

And here are the chicken-scratch hats. One of these should be sent to Axl Rose so that he can update his wardrobe.

I am missing this promotion by one day (I’ll be visiting the Naturals on June 9), but I hope the team sets aside some Thunder Chickens gear for me. It will be a nice complement to my Bowling Green Cave Shrimp t-shirt.

Finally, you may remember my post about the Quad Cities River Bandits photo jerseys, which will feature a collage of cancer survivors.  Last week, the Gwinnett Braves announced that they would be doing a photo jersey promotion as well. Their take on it is that it will be a Fan Appreciation Day promo that features — who else? — the fans.

The deal:

G-Braves fans will have the opportunity to have an image of their face featured on the back of replica jerseys which will be given out to the first 2,000 fans on that night, courtesy of Coolray Heating and Cooling. The images will be embedded as half-inch squares creating a mosaic in the uniform number 12 on the back of the jersey.

Another unique aspect is that fans will not know if they have been selected to be featured on the jersey. Fans will have to “like” the G-Braves post of the Fan Appreciation Night story to be considered to be featured on the giveaway. Approximately 390 faces will be featured, but fans will have to come to the game in order to see if they have won!

Great stuff, right? I’m always writing about great stuff. It’s what I do.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Wearing Your Guitar On Your Sleeve, and Other Innovations

I’ve got a healthy-sized stash of odds and ends Florida road trip content, and I’ll get to it as soon as I possibly can. But today’s post will be a good ol’ fashioned bouillabaisse (a word that I can no longer spell on the first attempt) featuring a mere fraction of the Minor League happenings that are fit to “print”. I can only do so much.

Let’s start with the Stockton Ports, who last season found success with their Rolling Stones theme jerseys. This year’s honoree was Johnny Cash, and the team wore — what else? — black jerseys.

Rickey Henderson, in town as an Oakland A’s roving instructor, was into it:

James Garner and his Cash tribute band provided the entertainment, and according to Ports director of marketing Jeremy Neisser they were “unbelievably amazing.”

Jerseys were auctioned off after the game, right off of the backs of those who wore them:

And, finally, what would such a promotion be without themed head shots?

It would be nothing, I tell you. Absolutely nothing.

Meanwhile, in Rochester, there’s a whole lot of something going on. The Red Wings have proclaimed that May is Baseball Month at Frontier Field, and for good reason: 27 games will be played there this month! (Including a sold-out Andy Pettitte rehab start that was moved to Frontier Field from its originally scheduled location of Batavia’s Dwyer Stadium.)

Explains the team:

The Red Wings in 2012 are sharing Frontier Field with the Empire State Yankees while their home of PNC Field in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre undergoes a season-long renovation. A total of 109 games will be played at Frontier Field in 2012.

“The only thing better than baseball is more baseball,” said Red Wings President/CEO Naomi Silver. “This unique season, and month, is one we’ll be taking about for years to come. Everyone will want to say they were a part of it.”

To encourage as many people to take part as possible, the team is incentivizing attendance throughout the month of May (despite spell-check informing me that “incentivizing” is not a word).

Fans attending one game a week during Baseball Month in Rochester will be entered into a drawing for the chance to win the grand prize of a one-year lease on a 2012 Toyota Camry.

Other prizes include lunch with Red Wings coaching staff, spending an inning in the broadcast booth, a team-signed jersey, and much more.

Let’s end with a picture of food! The Myrtle Beach Pelicans are serving “Chicken Bog Balls” at the ballpark this year, which really should be endorsed by legendary poultry consumer Wade Boggs.

Read all about Bog Balls here, and tell ‘em Ben’s Biz sent ya. Assuming, that is, that someone asks.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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