Results tagged ‘ Sunshine State ’

Return to the Road: Panhandle with Care

If you haven’t done so already, please check out yesterday’s post. It details my upcoming road trip itinerary, and your feedback (where applicable) is always appreciated. But enough about the future, we’re here today to take a trip through the recent past: my final, once and for all, for-real-this-time, last dispatch from my recent trip to Florida.

image from justflorida.org

Today’s post is devoted to my second, and final, day in Pensacola. The day started as they so often do on these road trips, with me writing in a hotel room while wishing I could be out exploring the area instead. And during this writing session, I heard about the death of Adam Yauch. To put it succinctly, I am a huge fan of the Beastie Boys and Yauch in particular was a role model. I busted out crying when I heard the news, and wrote this post on the Lakeland Flying Tigers while in tears. 

But I wasn’t about to spend the day crying alone in a hotel room, as that was one of my New Year’s resolutions. My first destination was an establishment that was recommended to me many times over and, without question, is Pensacola’s most famous restaurant: McGuire’s Irish Pub. I was psyched to go here, just from reading the menu online, and it didn’t disappoint.

The inside was downright hallucinogenic, but a bit hard for me to capture given the low lighting and my generally reserved attitude regarding photo-taking. But check out the ceiling, adorned with thousands and thousands of dollar bills.

If cameras could do acid, this is what all photos would look like:

And, no, I didn’t “Kiss the Moose” (a time-honored McGuire’s tradition). Given that I was there alone on a midweek afternoon it just didn’t seem appropriate. Next time, maybe?

I started off with the Senate Bean Soup, which, as detailed in the menu linked to above, is 18 cents at all times (but $18 if it’s the only thing that you order).

I followed that up with a ludicrously oversized portion of corned beef and cabbage. The strips of corned beef were arrayed in a circle around a softball-sized lump of cabbage, and complemented with carrots and a creamy dipping sauce. Even the bartender, who is presumably used to serving such things, expressed surprised by how big the platter was.

It was a decent meal, but could’ve been better (the corned beef was a bit tougher than I would’ve preferred). I finished all the meat and carrots, but couldn’t make it through the cabbage. It was the most cabbage I’ve ever had on a plate in front of me, ever, and while I love the stuff there’s only so much a man can take. (This is a metaphor).

And, incidentally, the bartender had been to a Pensacola Blue Wahoos game the week before and expressed a lukewarm opinion. Her primary beef was “$9 beers,” and when I disagreed with her assessment (I had attended on “Thirsty Thursday” the night prior) she relented somewhat and declared herself one of those “typical pessimistic Pensacola people.”

And with that excellent and seemingly unwitting use of alliteration, all was forgiven.

At this point, time, as usual, was in short supply. But I figured that to spend two days in Pensacola and not go to the beach was some sort of criminal offense. So I just started driving toward the water, and soon saw a sign for “Gulf Islands National Seashore.”

This was a beautiful area, no doubt, but the National Seashore didn’t really have a beach area to speak of. I didn’t have time to seek out the white sands that Pensacola is known for, however, due to the fact that I was scheduled to interview Jim Riggleman prior to the evening’s Blue Wahoos game. (Why is Jim Riggleman always foiling my aquatic opportunities? In 2005 he was a celebrity lifeguard at a blogger’s swim meet, and disqualified me on the grounds of being too pale.)

The above anecdote is of course not true, but pictures don’t lie. Some views from the National Seashore:

It was then back to Community Maritime Park, for my second Blue Wahoos game in as many days. The view from the dugout, sitting next to broadcaster Tommy Thrall and director of sports turf management (aka “groundskeeper”) Ryan Sayre while waiting for the aforementioned Riggleman.

It really was a beautiful day for baseball.

But it was a beautiful day for a lot of things, and just before the game got underway I decided that I would have to briefly escape the ballpark environment. It might have been a mirage, but while driving into the stadium I saw something that piqued my interest to the utmost degree…

So as Blue Wahoos fans streamed toward the ballpark from downtown, I walked in the opposite direction toward something I hoped that I had not imagined. Past the railroad tracks I went…

and…YES! My eyes had not deceived me. There it was, in all its glory. A Crawfish Festival!

Options were plentiful…

Beautiful woman, second from right

But I knew what I wanted — boiled crawfish, plain and simple.

Sorry, dude.

For the uninitiated. Don’t forget to suck the head!

Still reeling from the corned beef, I ordered a so-called “snack pack.”

And went to work. Eating crawfish is a labor-intensive, but deeply satisfying experience. You’ve really got to work for those tender morsels, and not be deterred by all the accompanying junk (yes, another metaphor).

(And while I really enjoyed all of this, I’d like to note that I was the only solo adult in attendance, the only one in a collared shirt, the only one with a notebook, the only one taking pictures of what he was eating, and the only one who didn’t make it to the beach that day because of Jim Riggleman-related obligations. I’m still learning how not to be self-conscious…)

Finished!

The sun was setting as I made it back to the ballpark, a beautiful scene.

A sold out crowd, as seen from the press box.

Down on the concourse I met team owners Quint and Rishy Studer, and spoke with Quint for a bit about his relentless commitment to customer service. That’s all detailed in this MiLB.com article, and of course a more straight-up blog post on the Blue Wahoos can be found HERE.

Also on the concourse, I met fan relations director Stewart Roberts. At every home game, he wheels around the concourse and, as he put it, “gets people pumped up.” A great job to have!

But, jeez, scoreboard graphics guy, way to kick a man when he’s down:

The Blue Wahoos lost, but that didn’t really seem to dampen the spirits of the fans. It was a Friday night, the weather was beautiful, and the beers, contrary to the claims of a local bartender, were less than $9. I stayed at the ballpark until the crowd thinned out.

Soon enough, even the prevalent pedicabs ran out of customers.

And, finally, mercifully, there was nothing left for me to do. The road trip ended for me as they always do — alone, in a hotel room, taking pictures of myself posing with boiled peanuts that had been recently purchased at a gas station.

Good night, folks, and thanks for sticking with me throughout the entirety of this Florida road trip narrative! And while it seems irrelevant to dedicate a Minor League Baseball blog post to Adam Yauch…this one is, anyway. Thanks for everything.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Looking Toward the Next Trip Before Returning to the Last

Today’s post will finally, once and for all, mark the end of my Florida road trip content. And it’s about time, right? I returned from the Sunshine State more than three weeks ago, and next week I’ll embark on my next journey of the 2012 campaign.

Yes, another MiLB road trip! Let’s focus on that for a moment.

From pink to orange to Missouri to dark green and then back to orange.

Here’s where I’ll be going. (As usual, chime in with suggestions regarding places to go, people to meet, establishments in which to eat, etc.)

June 7 — Oklahoma City RedHawks

June 8 — Tulsa Drillers

June 9 — Northwest Arkansas Naturals

June 10 — Springfield Cardinals

June 11 — Travel (should be in Memphis that evening)

June 12 — Memphis Redbirds

June 13 — Jackson Generals

June 14 — Arkansas Travelers

So, there you have it: Eight days, seven teams, four states, two leagues, one making-it-up-as-he-goes-along writer. Any ideas on what I should call this trip? Some pithy name that nicely represents the general region? Let me know.

And now, without further ado, it’s time to put a wrap on Florida. The previous, and penultimate, post of this “Return to the Road” series ended in DeFuniak Springs. From there it was just an hour drive to the final destination of Pensacola, a short trip that included my final appearance at a Florida rest stop. This boldly emblazoned truck was in the parking lot:

Soon enough I was in Pensacola, a city that felt unlike all the others I had visited on this trip. In a word, it felt distinctly “southern,” and my immediate reference point, Minor League market-wise, was Mobile (where I visited in 2010, to see the opening of the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum). (One piece of wisdom I heard during this trip was that “in Florida, the further north you go the more southern it gets.” I would concur.)

I arrived in the early afternoon, and spent an hour or so wandering around the downtown area.

Free parking, so long as you back in at an angle.

St. Michael’s Church, serving the Catholics of Northwest Florida for over 230 years.

Cannibal Corpse had played Vinyl the night before (!), with Steve Earle scheduled for the following evening. (It was an eclectic venue, as Lil Kim had an upcoming show as well. I wish all of the aforementioned artists were together on one bill, and then went on to record an album produced by Rick Rubin).

This barber shop had all sorts of memorabilia in the window, and I made a (failed) promise to myself that I would get a haircut there the next day. But the only picture of mine that really came out features this wonderful sign.

Downtown’s Palafox Place was lined with bars and restaurants…

For lunch, I followed a reader recommendation and stopped in at a dark and spacious bar and restaurant called Hopjack’s. They have a lot of beer.

I had a sense of deja vu as soon as I looked at the menu, with the emphasis on artisanal pizza and duck-fat fries bringing to mind a place I’d been to twice when in Mobile. That place was, in fact, another Hopjack’s. There are three of them total.

Blackened shrimp and peppers fold, with duck fat frites.

I spent that evening at the Pensacola Blue Wahoos game, and you can find my post on that HERE.

But you know what? I spent the entire next day in Pensacola as well, and still have a lot left to share. So rather than let this post get more unwieldy than it already is, I’ll renege on my oft-repeated claim that the Florida content will end today.

It’ll end tomorrow. Promise.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: From Daytona Beach to DeFuniak Springs

I won’t be content until I’ve posted all of my content, so here we go with another post full of Florida road trip odds and ends. The previous dispatch ended in Lakeland, and from there I drove northeast to beautiful Daytona Beach.

Drawbridge delays added a few minutes to my travel time, but I didn’t mind:

I was in town to see the Daytona Cubs, whose team hotel is the Acapulco. I’m going to go ahead and declare this to be the best view from a team hotel in all of Minor League Baseball.

I rarely relax on these trips (or in life, come to think of it) but I did go for a swim shortly after checking in. How could I not? I did so with a full stomach, however, as on the way to the hotel I stopped for lunch at The Daytona Brickyard. It was recommended to me via a blog post comment: In Daytona you have to eat at a hole in the wall NASCAR Bar called The Brickyard. It’s right across the street from Bethune Cookman College. They have the best burgers you will ever eat in your life.

Well, okay then. Off to 747 w. International Speedway Boulevard I went:


I imagine that this place can get pretty packed in the evenings, but the mid-day atmosphere was fairly sedate.

The menu didn’t make any particular claim to burger supremacy, but when I asked the waitress she just said “We have the best burgers, that’s what we’re known for.”

So, of course, I got the burger. The photo doesn’t really do it justice, but it really was good. Maybe not “greatest of all time,” but far above average. Char-grilled and nicely seasoned is all I can think to say, once again I’m coming up blank in the food adjective department. (The fries were great too, but I made the mistake of sprinkling some salt on them before tasting. They were already very, very salty.)

A burger with a checkered past.

I attended that evening’s Daytona Cubs game (read all about it), but there was still a little bit more to come from Jackie Robinson Stadium. An “Education Day” game was scheduled for the following morning, so I stopped by before heading on my way toward Pensacola.

I neglected to feature this in my previous post on Daytona, but outside of the stadium there is a statue of Jackie Robinson. (Daytona hosted Jackie and his Montreal Royals during 1946 Spring Training, one year before his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers.)

Inside the stadium, there were a lot of screaming kids. This is the defining characteristic of any “Education Day” ballgame.

Elsewhere in the stadium, things were pretty sedate.

After the ballgame, I stopped by the Florida State League headquarters (located just beyond right field).

I had met league president Chuck Murphy the night before, and he told me that the offices were full of interesting (and idiosyncratic) baseball memorabilia. But, alas, no one was there. I’ll have to put a stop at FSL HQ on my to-do list for the next time I’m in Daytona.

And there will be a next time! But the rest of this day was budgeted for travel, as the next (and last) stop on my itinerary was faraway Pensacola. The drive started on 95, but brightly colored billboards advertising fresh citrus, pecans and fireworks soon caused me to make a slight detour. I absolutely love places like this:

I ended up buying a bag of honey roasted pecans, boiled peanuts, and two grapefruit. Everything was awesome, but I was absolutely floored by how good the grapefruit was (as were as the oranges, of which free samples were provided). The guy working there explained that most grapefruits are picked before they are ripe so that they will not spoil. Therefore, they are not as flavorful as they otherwise could be.

I probably already knew this, but finally having a taste of the real thing hammered the point home. I will never eat a grapefruit here in the Northeast without thinking of how much better they are in Florida — so fresh, and tart, and juicy. The sort of thing that, yes, makes you grateful to be alive.

Alligator jerky didn’t necessarily make me glad to be alive, but it wasn’t so bad that I wished I was dead. It was thoroughly mediocre.

Did you guys hear the one about Shrek-brand jerky? The taste was thoroughly meaty ogre!

[Thanks, I’ll be in this deserted office all night. (Please, someone, give me a reason to leave).]

Several hours and several listens to the new Spiritualized album later, I noticed a decrepit billboard touting the fact that Greenville, Florida (population 837) is the birthplace of Ray Charles. Therefore, I decided to stop in Greenville. It was sleepy in the way that only the South seems to be sleepy; blanketed in soporific haze, the metronome moving in slow motion as the ghosts look on disinterestedly.

I think something was off with my camera.

And, yes, there in the center of Haffye Hays Park (no relation to Soporific) was the Ray Charles Memorial. Again, I apologize for whatever snafu resulted in such low lighting.

That’s about it when it comes to interesting detours I made en route to Pensacola, but I do want to take this opportunity to express my admiration for Florida rest stops. They were clean, informative, well-designed, and the vending machines were stocked with regional potato chip brands. This one was my favorite:

The gas stations were all in order too, thanks to a department of agriculture and consumer services commissioner who won’t take guff from anyone.

I didn’t quite make it to Pensacola that evening, opting instead to spend the night in the DeFuniak Springs Super 8. There wasn’t much to do there, so I passed the time trying (and failing) to take poignant photographs of a nearby Waffle House.

I swear that I’ll eventually run out of content from this trip. But it hasn’t happened yet!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: Days Inn and A Night Out

I plan on posting my next road trip itinerary before the week is out, but for now the supplemental Florida content keeps on rolling along. When we last left off, I had visited two wildly different Spring Training venues in the Fort Myers area before heading to Port Charlotte (home of the Stone Crabs).

Before checking in to Port Charlotte’s Days Inn, I stopped for lunch at this quality dining establishment.

I mention this because this marked the only time on this trip that I had a chance to order grouper (one of Southwest Florida’s most prevalent seafood options). The Olympia did a good job with it, I thought.

The Olympia Restaurant and the Days Inn were both located on “Tamiami Trail,” a quaint sounding name for what was in actuality a heavily-trafficked commercial road. If that’s a “trail,” then you might as well call the Empire State Building a shack…

But I, once again, digress. The Days Inn itself was nothing special, but its awesome backyard boasted an appealing otherworldly-ness. I was disappointed that the subterranean music club was closed, as that surely would have provided a hallucinogenic evening of down and dirty swampland jazz.

My final note on the Days Inn is this classic piece of passive-aggressive corporate communication:

And since I’m on the topic of hotels, the next day I traveled to Lakeland (home of the Flying Tigers) and holed up at the Imperial Swan. Did you know that this is the official winter home of the Detroit Tigers? It’s kinda obvious:

My room at the Imperial Swan was indeed fit for a regal waterfowl. For some reason I decided that Johnny Damon once spent a lot of time in this room while clad in a bathrobe. It was just a hunch.

The Imperial Swan had a decidedly Twilight Zone feel to it, however. The energy was just off. I felt like I was the only one in there, and as I rode my big wheel down the deserted hallways I half expected to come across a set of pallid hand-holding twins beckoning me to come play with them.

But that night’s dinner was an unexpected surprise. I decided on an unassuming Mexican place called “Peso’s,” and in addition to the standard-issue Mexican fare they had a menu of Cuban specials as well.

I can’t remember what this platter was called, but it made me glad to be alive. What a beautiful array of foodstuffs:

So, yeah: Next time you’re in Lakeland, go to Peso’s! It was so good that I was almost able to ignore the domestic dispute going on at the table across from me. Some chest-puffing Dad got so mad at his teenage son that he followed him out of the restaurant to, like, fight him in the parking lot. To distract me from that I decided to flirt with the waitress, which in my case means smiling and maintaining eye contact for half a second longer than usual.

Before leaving Lakeland, I made a pit stop at Henley Park Ballfield to soak in an old-time baseball atmosphere. Built in 1925 and currently on the National Register of Historic Places, this facility hosted Major League Spring Training through the mid 1960s. Since then it has served as the home of the Florida Southern College Moccasins, who do a great job with the upkeep.

I’ve got two or three more dispatches from Florida left, unless the public demands the immediate cessation of such content. Your wish is my command.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: Spring Training Present, Spring Training Past

Today’s blog once again returns to Florida, in order to cover that which I couldn’t squeeze in the first time around. And there was PLENTY that couldn’t be squeezed in. There always is.

Day 2 of my journey began with breakfast at a Clearwater institution, one conveniently located two doors away from my hotel. Lenny’s:

This place specializes in gut-busting portions of greasy and satisfying breakfast food, and as such is popular with the hordes of Philadelphians who make annual treks to Clearwater to watch the Phillies in Spring Training.

Unfortunately, it was too early in the morning for me to have my act together. My camera’s battery died, and so I didn’t get any interior shots. But my dining companion Dave Deas (aka Clearwater Threshers’ mascot “Phinley”) did send over this pic of the menu.

Not the best resolution, but I hope it conveys the sort of personality the place has. So, yeah, go to Lenny’s if you’re in Clearwater. It seems like everyone does.

On my way out of Clearwater (heading toward Fort Myers) I drove past what was labeled as the “original” Hooters restaurant. From humble beginnings…

Soon I came upon what was perhaps the most visually spectacular bridge I had ever driven across: the Sunshine Skyway, which spans Tampa Bay. This picture doesn’t do it justice, but keep in mind that I was driving and probably shouldn’t have been taking a picture at all.

My ultimate destination this day was Hammond Stadium, home of the Fort Myers Miracle. I already wrote all about that experience, but as a prelude I stopped by nearby JetBlue Park. This is the new Spring Training home of the Boston Red Sox, and it is known as “Fenway South” for a reason:

Red Sox fans absolutely swarmed this place during the month of March, as the facility was sold out throughout the entirety of the Grapefruit League schedule. But things were quiet when I arrived, as that evening’s “big” event was a softball tournament for JetBlue employees.

I more or less had the place to myself.

Not that anyone can just walk in and start taking pictures on the field. My visit was thanks to the generosity of Red Sox Spring Traning Operations employee Kevin Walsh, a Utah native and recent University of Richmond graduate who had extended the invite after seeing my Florida trip itinerary on this blog.

As soon as the park was opened to the public this past February, Red Sox fans swarmed to “Pesky’s Pole” in order to add a personalized touch.

Walsh’s primary gameday duty had been to work the manual scoreboard in left field. The numbers had to be updated from the warning track, meaning that he was a constant between-inning (and sometimes between-batter) presence during all Spring Training games.

We then entered Walsh’s lair, where numbers were stacked upon numbers were stacked upon numbers.

The view from the inside was beautiful (albeit limited) with the field resembling a water color painting:

While the outfield view seen above is not available to the ticket buying public, the following are:

 

Behind the stadium exist a complex of fields, utilized by Red Sox Minor Leaguers as well as softball players employed by an airline that sprung for a naming rights deal.

JetBlue Park is downright palatial, and cost $80 million to build (paid for by the county). It is rather stunning to contrast this super-sized Spring Training present with the region’s Spring Training past. The next morning, before leaving the Fort Myers area, I stopped by Terry Park.  This (comparatively) small complex of fields first opened in 1925, and hosted Major League Spring Training through 1987 (teams that trained here included the Philadelphia A’s, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleveland Indians, and Kansas City Royals). It is currently on the National Register of Historic Places, and still hosts myriad college and amateur teams.

It’s a decidedly intimate environment throughout, and striking in that this was a Major League site as recently as 25 years ago. Times have changed, and fast.

 But some things never change — how come martinis are never allowed at the ballpark?

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Soaking Up the Scene in Pensacola

Seeing five Florida State League ballparks in five days was a whirlwind, but the concluding event of this latest (and therefore greatest) road trip was yet to come. I left Daytona on Wednesday afternoon (after making a cameo at that morning’s “education day” D-Cubs game), and then embarked on a travel day that ended within the not-so-scenic environs of the DeFuniak Springs Super 8 Motel.

And on Thursday, traveling further west along the Florida panhandle, I reached my final destination: Pensacola, home of the Southern League’s Blue Wahoos. I have a lot of random material from Pensacola to share in the near future, but for the sake of clarity, brevity and my own self-imposed timetables this post shall focus on Thursday’s doubleheader at brand-new Community Maritime Park. (Consider this a companion to Tuesday’s MiLB.com piece. Please).

The parking lot is to the right of this vast expanse of grass, and it’s purposefully small. The idea is that people will bookend their Blue Wahoo experience by drinking, dining, and socializing in downtown Pensacola — located about a 10 minute walk from the ballpark — and on both nights I attended people were indeed streaming in via foot, pedicab, and shuttle bus. (Again, there will be more on all of that in a future post.)

But at this early juncture, I more or less had the stadium to myself.

The man in the full uniform leaning against the cage is former Cincinnati star Eric Davis, now a Reds roving instructor. And on the far right there is Pensacola manager Jim Riggleman, who in 2011 left the Washington Nationals in a cloud of controversy. That’s not something that he’s inclined to elaborate on these days, but I did get the chance to interview Riggleman in the clubhouse the next day.

(Other Blue Wahoos who were subjected to my Flipcam stylings were Donnie Joseph, Ryan LaMarre, and Didi Gregorious. My interviews with the latter two included questions regarding the Cannibal Corpse show that had taken place in Pensacola the night before. A simple search for these players names on MiLB.com will yield the interviews).

But the star of the show at Community Maritime Park is, quite simply, the view of Pensacola Bay (beyond which lies the Gulf of Mexico).

The above picture was taken from the team’s Hancock Bank Club. Admission to the “club” is sold as a season ticket, and food is part of the package. There are no suites at Community Maritime Park, so this is about as “exclusive” as the stadium gets.


I was in the Hancock Bank Club as part of a stadium tour being provided by Blue Wahoos executive VP Johnathan Griffin. At one point I dropped my pen onto the stadium’s lower level, and for that faux pas I blame my earlier consumption of this.

That’s the Blue Wahoo, the only ballpark drink I’ve ever seen that features moonshine as a prominent ingredient. (And the strawberries resting on top had been soaked in the stuff!)

Drinks such as the above are available at Mulroy’s Bar, located on the concourse behind home plate. Nearby, one can also find plenty of beer options:

And the team even has its own beer on draft, called “Ono.”

Another bit of liquified branding is the team’s own bottled water (both the beer and water will soon be sold outside of the ballpark as well).

The people of Pensacola seem to enjoy their drinking, is all that I’m getting at, and this trait is consistent with beach towns nationwide. Hot weather and lots of time on the white sand can result in a powerful thirst. And speaking of the people of Pensacola, at this point they were streaming into the ballpark en masse. (It was a sell-out crowd, and as this post progresses, you’ll see more and more folks in the ballpark.)

The view from the right field concourse, both facing the field…

and away from it.

There are no general admission seats, but $5 gets you into the park and provides access to anywhere on the (approximately 270 degree) concourse as well as the grass berm. The preponderance of open space lends itself to a relaxed atmosphere even when the park is full.

The previous night’s game had been rained out, and along with it a planned “Superhero Night” promotion. The team re-scheduled it for the next day, and this young fan came prepared.

The area behind (and adjacent to) the center field scoreboard is currently unutilized, but Griffith imagines it as a beach-themed party area.

Community Maritime Park is just a portion of a larger “live-work-play” downtown development project. This amphitheater, which includes access to the Blue Wahoos’ outfield concession areas, will be completed in time for a Charlie Daniels concert next month.

I soon took a trip to the press box, to join Tommy Thrall and Andrew Green for an inning on the radio.

My recent moonshine consumption may have led to an even greater propensity for puns than usual, and perhaps the audio will one day surface. Later in the evening I noticed that the broadcast was playing at a fairly substantial volume in the men’s restroom — I can only hope that I said something that made a man laugh as he was urinating, for this is my lone goal in life.

And speaking of the restrooms, they have their own attendants stationed outside.

This is all part of a relentless emphasis on cleanliness and customer service, and a large part of team owner Quint Studer’s business philosophy (more on that in the MiLB.com piece). Even after the novelty wears off, I imagine that Community Maritime Park will remain one of the cleanest and friendliest parks in MiLB.

But the novelty hasn’t worn off yet, of course, and on these trips I’m always looking for novelty — especially in concessions.

Food and beverage director Mark Micallef had handed me a large wad of “employee bucks” prior to the game, and I intended to make use of them. Playing off of the nautical theme, concessions are can be found on both the “Port” and “Starboard” sides of the stadium.

I had spoken with executive chef Chris Voorhees before the game, and was intrigued by both the 1/3rd-pound “Heater Burger” and the much-touted Shrimp Po’ Boy. But I couldn’t pass up the “Sea Dog” — a foot-long breaded cod topped with cole slaw, tartar sauce, and the team’s signature “Wahoo Sauce” (house-made, it’s kick determined by how long it had been left to marinate).

I loved this thing for two — nay, three — reasons:

1. The cole slaw was tart and fresh. It had a bit of a crunch to it, and was far better than the uninspired mush found at diners nationwide.

2. The breading was light and crisp, and the fish within tender and flaky

3. It was seafood. Burgers and hot dogs are all well and good, but I was burned out on them at this point and glad to try something new. And this was my first stop in Florida where seafood had been on the concession menu! Strange, considering that it’s Florida and all.

Dessert was to be found at the shaved ice stand located on down the third base line, which offered dozens of flavors. I went with “Frog in a Blender” simply because it was called “Frog in a Blender,” but amphibious innards were nowhere to be found. Instead it was a mix of lemon-lime and watermelon flavoring.

And while nothing I ordered was in need of additional condiments, let it be known that the Blue Wahoos are well-stocked.

At this point my narrative, which barely existed in the first place, peters out. So let me close with a final array of photos, depicting the nighttime atmosphere of Pensacola baseball on a Thursday night.

The night ended as these nights always do — with Launch-a-Ball! (I must note, however, that Launch-a-Ball and Thirsty Thursday doesn’t necessarily mix. Play had to be stopped on two occasions due to a ball being thrown onto the field, and in the latter instance it was while closer Donnie Joseph was delivering a pitch with two outs and two strikes. To whomever threw it: there is a special circle of hell waiting for you, one in which the flip-flops pinch your toes, the Sublime cd skips, and the Natty Ice is served at room temperature).

This concludes round 1 of Road Trip blog coverage. There is still much more to come over the next week or two, much of it focusing on that which occurred outside of the ballparks. So, please, keep coming back and, even more importantly, if you like this sort of thing then please spread the word.

Ben’s Biz Blog post #800 now terminates.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Feeling at Home in Daytona

I really and truly enjoy every single place that I get to visit on these road trips. There is always something to recommend. But every once in a while I chance upon a location that resonates on a deeper level, one that makes me wish I could just relax and stay for a while.

Daytona was one of those places. I just flat-out felt comfortable here, both in the town itself as well as, more specifically, Jackie Robinson Stadium (the home of the Daytona Cubs).  Perhaps I was too comfortable, in that once again I seem to have neglected my duties and failed to take exterior shots of the stadium. But here are a few shots of the interior, before the madding crowd was permitted to disrupt my photo-taking solitude.

Jackie Robinson Stadium is an iconic facility with charm to spare, and an anomaly in the Florida State League in that it does not host Major League Spring Training. This, to me, is to its infinite benefit — as opposed to an oversized and sterile Spring Training environment, Jackie Robinson evokes nothing less and nothing more than the quintessential charm of Minor League Baseball — intimate, no-frills, and eminently accessible.

But it’s also ironic, to a degree, in that the stadium got its name due to its Major League Spring Training history. In 1946, Daytona became the first city to allow Jackie Robinson to participate in a Spring Training game (he was then gearing up for a season with the International League’s Montreal Royals, one year prior to his groundbreaking campaign with the Dodgers). There’s a statue out front that commemorates this history.

The full name of the facility is now “Jackie Robinson Ballpark and Museum,” with the latter part of the equation being a self–guided tour within the concourse area. There are informational plaques galore, many of which are supplemented by displays that bring to life Robinson’s myriad athletic accomplishments.

Jackie was known for stealing home. This display (above and below) puts it in perspective.

It’s all about perspective. Jackie’s vertical leaping abilities are displayed here…

while this area pays homage to the horizontal.

At this point in the evening, the stadium gates were thrown open and the hoi polloi streamed forth. The hoi polloi, in this case, were blue-shirt wearing members of the team’s “Silver Sluggers” fan club.

The backs of their shirts should have said “apostles of baseball bingo,” because that’s what they were here for.

Jackie Robinson Ballpark is old (its first iteration dates back to 1914), and as such there isn’t much room for the staff to operate. The front offices were painfully, ludicrously cramped (I should have taken a picture), and the team store wasn’t much more than a kiosk.

That detached head on the counter is, perhaps, a homage to the club’s old logo. It featured the severed head of a too-cool-for-school bear, a bear whose origins appeared Arctic despite the Floridan environs:

But this was my favorite piece of apparel — a t-shirt commemorating outfielder Matt Sczcur and the proper pronunciation of his confounding last name.

I interviewed Sczcur before the game, and that can be found HERE. He was a real nice guy, as ballplayers — and, by extension, all humans — almost always are, and spoke with pride about the above item.

As alluded to above, the fans were streaming in at this point in the evening. And Daytona, if nothing else, has VERY committed fans. I wrote an MiLB.com story about this very subject (please read it HERE), and it featured characters such as Pat Drosten (right) and Faye Haas:

Drosten is one of 17 fans who, in 2000, got a D-Cubs tattoo in exchange for lifetime season tickets.

So did “FRJ,” otherwise known as Front Row Joe:

Front Row Joe is a ballpark celebrity, as he’s attended every D-Cubs game dating back to June of 1995. I wrote a story on him when he hit 1000 straight, and this particular evening was number 1147. It’s easy to keep track, since there’s a billboard in left-center field that does just this. Part of Joe’s pre-game routine is to walk out 20 minutes before game time and change the number. He extended the invite to accompany him, and I was more than happy to oblige.

Like Andre the Giant before him, Front Row Joe has a posse:

(Daytona really is great. I can’t wait to go back).

And, well, jeez — Joe had done his thing, the Silver Sluggers were in their seats, and it was time for the game to begin!

As this game script makes clear, the team had plans for me.

“Singing For My Supper” involved listening to the first verse of “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” and then belting out the chorus as soon as the music was cut off.

Waiting for my moment:

Belting it out:

Posing victoriously with my new best friend, his head thankfully not severed.

I suffer from by-polar disorder

A few innings later, I spent some time in what is a disappearing stadium phenomenon: the rooftop pressbox.

That’s media relations director Robbie Aaron on the right, who invited me to do an inning with him on the radio. (I always enjoy being on the radio, as it hearkens me back to my days with WPTS 92.1 Pittsburgh.) Afterwards, I snapped a photo of the rooftop view:

All that talking works up an appetite (not to mention the fact that I had already sang for my supper). Concession wise, Jackie Robinson Ballpark is probably more notable for its extensive drink options than the food. Beer options were measured by the dozens, and, while not photographed, I’m pretty sure that this is the only park I’ve been to that has served Jagr.

The food options were pretty standard, but this is more a result of space considerations than any sort of creative defect. I ordered pork nachos, but they were pretty lackluster. Pork and nacho cheese over chips, three quarters of which were untouched by toppings:

After eating, I went back to the second row and watched the concluding innings of the Cubs’ loss with frustrated fan FRJ.

But, win or lose, there’s always launch-a-ball. And thank goodness for that.

And thank goodness for you, whoever you may be, for reading.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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