Results tagged ‘ Travel ’

Planning the Ultimate Minor League Baseball Road Trip: An Exercise in Patience

Yesterday, new Ben’s Biz Blog contributor Ashley Marshall introduced himself via a Pac-Man inspired tour of the Minor League landscape. Today, he really goes the extra mile with this “ultimate” Minor League Road Trip itinerary. Please keep in mind, however, that this “ultimate” itinerary is entirely theoretical. Neither I (Ben’s Biz) or Ashley or anyone else will actually be doing it. For my 2015 road trip itineraries, click HERE

By Ashley Marshall/MiLB.com

Happy Opening Day, baseball fans. From Vancouver to West Palm Beach, San Jose to Winooski, Vt, the Minor Leagues bring baseball to millions of fans in thousands of communities.

Each year, there are 160 Minor League teams playing more than 8,000 games in 42 continental US states and one Canadian province across 14 leagues and six levels from Triple-A down to rookie ball. All this happens in a five-month, 152-day window from Opening Day on April 9 to the regular season finales on Sept. 7.

That had me thinking. With fewer than 10 flights and relying otherwise only on car travel, is it possible to visit all 160 teams in one season? Also, how big does my suitcase need to be to fit five months’ worth of clothes into it?

I’ll try to answer the first question. I’ll leave the second one up to your own imagination. At the end of this article, I’ll also tell you what such a trip might cost. map While seeing every club play one home fixture during 2015 is possible, the logistics of planning such a schedule range somewhere from tricky to excruciatingly frustrating.

But with Ben unveiling his road trip itinerary Friday, I thought now would be as good a time as any to share with you one way such a mammoth, travel-intensive journey could take shape.

Call this whatever you want — a logistical crossword, a thought experiment, a lesson in tedium. But just to be clear, this is a ‘paper only’ experiment. Neither I nor anyone I know is undertaking this trip.

So, a few initial observations: While some states boast a high number of Minor League teams (Florida is home to 14; California, 12; Tennessee and North Carolina, nine each), eight other states and provinces are home to just one club. For those keeping score at home, they’re Vermont, New Hampshire, Missouri, Maine, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Delaware and British Columbia.

There’s no way to tackle these except in isolation in the context of a bigger road trip. The need to schedule at least eight day-night twinbills of two games in two ballparks on one day is the very minimum requirement to make such an ambitious itinerary possible.

But factoring in days off (the Florida State League is off entirely on Mother’s Day, for example; the International and Pacific Coast Leagues are off July 13-15 for the Triple-A All-Star Game) homestands not always coinciding with the days you’re in that part of a state and the fact that the rookie-level and short-season leagues are at opposite ends of the country and only play for around the final 10 weeks of the year, it’s imperative to double up on games almost twice as many times.

These leagues are limited geographically from the northeast (New York-Penn League) and down the coast as far as the Carolinas (Appalachian League) on one side of America, and from the pacific northwest down into Montana and Colorado on the other. To make it at least somewhat cost-effective, I’ll limit airplane travel to 10 times during the season, most likely for cross-country journeys or picking off isolated teams that otherwise wouldn’t fit into a schedule.

***

I initially thought you could start in the Midwest around Omaha, head east through the Midwest League and then tackle the International League, Eastern League and South Atlantic League teams as you get to them. At that point, you could head south and west, starting with the New York-Penn League and Appy Leagues and going into Florida to wrap up the Florida State League in two weeks.

Next would be the Texas League and more eastern Pacific Coast League teams, the California League and finally the Northwest and Pioneer Leagues. Two potential problems with that plan.

  • One, the New York-Penn League doesn’t kick off until mid-June, meaning you’d need to hit around 65 teams before starting the NYPL schedule. There’s just not enough teams in the Midwest, International and Eastern Leagues to make that happen
  • Two, the weather is notoriously unpredictable in the spring in the east and Midwest, making rainouts more likely, even if exact postponements could never be foreseen that far in advance.

So instead, here’s how you could make it work. Start on the west coast. Head south and east through Texas, looping up through Florida, up the east coast (by which time the NYPL will be playing), then across the top of the country finishing back in the northwest with the two summer leagues there.

That should give you enough time to head back into California or toward Texas to mop up any teams you missed the first time through. Most of the day-night games have to be in the Florida State League or along the eastern seaboard where multiple teams are within a few hours’ drive of one another.

Even if, for example, Corpus Christi played an 11am game on the same day El Paso had a 7pm start, Texas is just too big to navigate between them to arrive at the second ballpark in time.

About one-third of the way into the planning of this fictitious trip that exists only on paper, I ran into another problem. Biloxi’s new stadium will not be ready until early summer, with the home opener scheduled for June 6. With that obstacle in mind, you can bypass the trio of Biloxi (and neighboring Mobile and Pensacola) for now, planning to return to them later in the year when all three teams are at home. The next time this happens is the third week of July. Biloxi has a homestand from July 15-21, Mobile from 15-19 and Pensacola from July 20-26. That gives you just enough of an overlap to make it possible, allowing you to return north to complete that leg of the trip.

With that in mind, I present to you the following schedule.

Date DH Home Away League Time
9-Apr Sacramento Salt Lake PCL 7:05
10-Apr Fresno Las Vegas PCL 7:05
11-Apr Visalia High Desert Cal 7:00
12-Apr Inland Empre Stockton CAL 2:05
13-Apr
14-Apr Lake Elsinore High Desert CAL 6:00
15-Apr 1 Bakersfield Modesto CAL 11:00
15-Apr 2 Lancaster Stockton CAL 6:30
16-Apr High Desert Lancaster CAL 6:35
17-Apr San Antonio Tulsa TEX 7:05
18-Apr Corpus Christi Springfield TEX 7:05
19-Apr Round Rock Memphis TEX 1:05
20-Apr Arkansas Midland TEX 7:10
21-Apr Mississippi Chattanooga SOU 7:00
22-Apr Jackson Tennessee SOU 7:05
23-Apr Springfield Arkansas TEX 7:05
24-Apr Tulsa Northwest Arkansas TEX 7:05
25-Apr Oklahoma City Omaha PCL 7:05
26-Apr Frisco Corpus Christi TEX 4:05
27-Apr Midland Corpus Chrisit TEX 6:30
28-Apr Memphis Round Rock PCL 7:05
29-Apr Northwest Arkansas Springfield TEX 11:05
30-Apr Brevard County Daytona FSL 6:35
1-May Dunedin Clearwater FSL 6:30
2-May Tampa Lakeland FSL 6:00
3-May 1 Clearwater Dunedin FSL 1:00
3-May 2 Daytona Brevard County FSL 5:35
4-May St. Lucie Palm Beach FSL 6:30
5-May Jupiter Charlotte FSL 6:35
6-May 1 Lakeland Daytona FSL 10:30
6-May 2 Bradenton Fort Myers FSL 6:30
7-May Palm Beach Bradenton FSL 6:35
8-May Charlotte St. Lucie FSL 6:30
9-May Fort Myers Jupiter FSL 6:05
10-May Montgomery Birmingham SOU 2:05
11-May Birmingham Chattanooga SOU 7:05
12-May New Orleans Oklahoma City PCL 7:05
13-May Jacksonville Pensacola SOU 11:05
14-May 1 Gwinnett Syracuse IL 10:35
14-May 2 Augusta Hickory SAL 7:05
15-May Savannah Lexington SAL 7:05
16-May Charleston Greenville SAL 6:05
17-May Charlotte Syracuse IL 2:05
18-May Kannapolis Asheville SAL 7:05
19-May Greenville Lexington SAL 7:05
20-May 1 Rome Charleston SAL 1:00
20-May 2 Chattanooga Montgomery SOU 7:15
21-May Myrtle Beach Frederick CAR 7:05
22-May Norfolk Rochester IL 7:05
23-May Richmond Bowie IL 6:05
24-May Lynchburg Frederick CAR 2:00
25-May 1 Salem Winston-Salem CAR 1:05
25-May 2 Greensboro Hagerstown SAL 7:00
26-May Hickory Delmarva SAL 6:00
27-May 1 Durham Rochester IL 1:05
27-May 2 Carolina Myrtle Beach SAL 7:00
28-May Winston-Salem Lynchburg SAL 7:00
29-May Asheville Augusta SAL 7:05
30-May Tennessee Mobile SOU 7:05
31-May Nashville Las Vegas PCL 2:05
1-Jun Bowling Green Great Lakes MWL 12:05
2-Jun West Virginia Greensboro SAL 7:05
3-Jun 1 Columbus Toledo IL 11:35
3-Jun 2 South Bend Cedar Rapids MWL 7:05
4-Jun West Michigan Quad Cities MWL 7:00
5-Jun Wisconsin Lake County MWL 7:05
6-Jun Beloit Lake County MWL 7:00
7-Jun Iowa Memphis PCL 1:08
8-Jun Omaha Colorado Springs PCL 7:05
9-Jun Toldedo Syracuse IL 7:00
10-Jun Cedar Rapids Great Lakes MWL 6:35
11-Jun Peoria West Michigan MWL 7:00
12-Jun Burlington South Bend MWL 6:30
13-Jun Quad Cities Great Lakes MWL 6:00
14-Jun Fort Wayne Clinton MWL 3:05
15-Jun Indianapolis Durham IL 7:05
16-Jun Louisville Gwinnett IL 7:05
17-Jun 1 Kane County Wisconsin MWL 12:00
17-Jun 2 Clinton Quad Cities MWL 6:30
18-Jun Great Lakes Lake County MWL 7:05
19-Jun Lansing Great Lakes MWL 7:05
20-Jun Akron Erie EL 7:05
21-Jun Lexington Rome SAL 6:05
22-Jun Dayton Lake County MWL 2:00
23-Jun Bluefield Elizabethton APPY 7:05
24-Jun Bristol Greeneville APPY 7:00
25-Jun Johnson City Kingsport APPY 7:00
26-Jun Greeneville Danville APPY 7:00
27-Jun Kingsport Bluefield APPY 7:00
28-Jun Elizabethton Pulaksi APPY 6:00
29-Jun Danville Kingsport APPY 7:00
30-Jun Burlington Bluefield APPY 7:00
1-Jul 1 Princeton Greeneville APPY 11:00
1-Jul 2 Pulaski Johnson City APPY 7:00
2-Jul Biloxi Mississippi SOU 7:10
3-Jul Pensacola Jacksonville SOU 6:30
4-Jul Mobile Pensacola SOU 7:05
5-Jul West Virginia Batavia NYPL 4:05
6-Jul Bowie Erie EL 7:05
7-Jul Wilmington Frederick CAR 6:35
8-Jul Hagerstown Delmarva SAL 7:05
9-Jul 1 Potomac Lynchburg SAL 12:05
9-Jul 2 Aberdeen Staten Island NYPL 7:05
10-Jul Frederick Salem CAR 7:00
11-Jul Harrisburg Erie EL 6:00
12-Jul Altoona Bowie EL 6:00
13-Jul 1 State College Tri-City NYPL 12:00
13-Jul 2 Williamsport Connecticut NYPL 7:05
14-Jul Delmarva Lexington SAL 7:05
15-Jul Staten Island Brooklyn NYPL 7:00
16-Jul Brooklyn Staten Island NYPL 7:00
17-Jul Reading New Britain EL 7:05
18-Jul Connecticut Hudson Valley NYPL 7:05
19-Jul New Hampshire Portland EL 1:35
20-Jul 1 Tri-City Aberdeen NYPL 11:00
20-Jul 2 New Britain Binghamton EL 7:05
21-Jul Lowell Tri-City NYPL 7:05
22-Jul Portland Trenton EL 12:00
23-Jul Vermont Auburn NYPL 7:05
24-Jul Pawtucket Buffalo IL 7:05
25-Jul Hudson Valley State College NYPL 7:05
26-Jul Lakewood Kannapolis SAL 1:05
27-Jul Trenton Portland EL 7:00
28-Jul Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Lehigh Valley IL 7:05
29-Jul Lehigh Valley Scranton/Wilkes-Barre IL 7:05
30-Jul Auburn Aberdeen NYPL 7:05
31-Jul Rochester Syracuse IL 7:05
1-Aug Buffalo Pawtucket IL 7:05
2-Aug Lake County Great Lakes MWL 6:30
3-Aug Mahoning Valley Williamsport NYPL 7:05
4-Aug Batavia State College NYPL 7:05
5-Aug Syracuse Pawtucket IL 7:05
6-Aug Binghamton Bowie EL 6:35
7-Aug Erie Harrisburg EL 7:05
8-Aug
9-Aug
10-Aug Vancouver Everett NWL 7:05
11-Aug Spokane Tri-City NWL 6:30
12-Aug 1 Tacoma Sacramento PCL 11:34
12-Aug 2 Tri-City Boise NWL TBD
13-Aug
14-Aug Great Falls Orem PIO TBD
15-Aug Hillsboro Vancouver NWL 5:30
16-Aug Eugene Everett NWL 5:01
17-Aug Salem Keizer Hillsboro NWL 6:35
18-Aug Everett Spokane NWL 7:05
19-Aug Boise Eugene PIO 7:15
20-Aug Idaho Falls Billings PIO 7:15
21-Aug Salt Lake Iowa PCL 6:35
22-Aug Orem Ogden PIO 7:15
23-Aug Helena Great Falls PIO 1:05
24-Aug Billings Missoula PIO 7:05
25-Aug Missoula Helena PIO 7:05
26-Aug Ogden Idaho Falls PIO TBD
27-Aug Grand Junction Orem PIO TBD
28-Aug Albuquerque Colorado Springs PCL 7:05
29-Aug El Paso Oklahoma City PCL 7:05
30-Aug Modesto Visalia CAL 6:05
31-Aug Las Vegas El Paso PCL 7:05
1-Sep San Jose Modesto CAL 7:00
2-Sep
3-Sep
4-Sep Stockton Modesto CAL 7:10
5-Sep Reno El Paso PCL 7:05
6-Sep Rancho Cucamonga Inland Empire CAL 5:05
7-Sep Colorado Springs New Orleans PCL 1:35

This incorporates 15 dates with two games on the same day, and just six days out of 152 with no games scheduled.

***

Breaking it all down

  • This itinerary logs almost 40,000 miles, including almost 30,000 by road and nearly 10,000 on 10 trips through the air.
  • You’ll spend a little more than 500 hours driving and another 38 hours on an airplane. That’s nearly 24 full days.
  • The shortest leg of the trip is from Staten Island to Brooklyn, just 18 miles.
  • By contrast, the longest leg is going from Erie, Pa., to Vancouver. That’s a 40-hour, 2,600-mile trip by car, reduced to a seven hour, $500 multi-leg flight from Buffalo, Cleveland or Pittsburgh.
  • Other flights include Los Angeles (serving Adelanto) to San Antonio, Texas; Mobile, Alabama to Clarksburg (serving Granville, West Virginia); and Orange County (serving Rancho Cucamonga) to Colorado Springs.
  • Assuming your car gets 33 miles to the gallon and the average cost of a gallon of fuel nationwide is $2.50, you’ll spend around $2,272 on 1250 gallons of gas alone. Figure to spent another $3,000 on air fare.
  • There are 30 Triple-A teams, 30 Double-A teams, 60 Class A teams, 22 short-season teams and 18 rookie-level teams on the schedule. Based on the average prices published by MiLB least year, if you bought one ticket, a soda and a hot dog, a program and paid for car parking at each game, you’d spend $3,280 during the year.
  • The most expensive part of such a ludicrous trip would be hotels. Even at $75 a night, a place to crash after a ballgame would ring up an additional $12,000 over five months.
  • Then factoring in taking five months off work. With the average American making between $27,000 – $28,000, taking such a long period of time off work could lose you around $11,000 in wages.

These calculations don’t even take into account paying for breakfasts, lunches or dinners, doing laundry every week you’re on the road, the possible need to rent a vehicle assuming you don’t have access to one in each city you travel through, and just the general cost of living. Food alone could run upward of $5,000, and that’s only budgeting $30 a day.

So the real cost of this trip? It could very possibly cost you a cool $40,000.

***

How would your schedule look? Which way would you attack such a logistical nightmare? How would you save time, money or both? If you only traveled throughout one league, which one would you pick and why? Feel free to message me on Twitter @AshMarshallMLB or reply in the comments below. And if you have any MiLB travel plans this season, however small or large, I’d love to hear from you. Plan your own road trip here.

ashley.marshall@mlb.com

twitter.com/ashmarshallmlb

On the Road: Slammed, Dunked, and Stuffed in Akron

The fifth and final stop in this, my most recent Minor League road trip, was Akron’s Canal Park. This  facility has served as the home of the Double-A Aeros since 1997, and is located in the heart of downtown.

To give you an idea of the general surroundings, the stadium is located just down the street from the Civic Theater.

And across the street from from a closed storefront featuring this interesting artwork.

Large municipal buildings abound throughout the area, and some are even called “Municipal Building.”

And the streets are litter-free, thanks to Akron’s passion for the regional sport known as “Trashball.”

Canal Park offers a decent urban view from the seating bowl, with many of the buildings associated with the renowned Akron Children’s Hospital.

And Canal Park got its name for a reason — Akron was settled at the summit of the Ohio-Erie Canal, and developed into a  manufacturing and transportation hub. Beyond left field, there are still some aquatic reminders of the city’s history.

The view toward center field reveals an 18″x25″ digital scoreboard, as well as an inflatable slide that takes up seemingly every inch of available space.

Above the seating bowl are 25 suites (20 owned by the team and five by the city). They were personally decorated by the stadium’s original suiteholders, with motifs that could be characterized as  “ladies sewing circle” and “old man’s den.”

On this particular evening, early-arriving fans received a “Batman” bobblebelly in honor of the Aeros’ iconic on-field dancer and bat retriever.

The promotion that I was really looking forward to was “Car Survivor,” in which five contestants vie to win a car by seeing who can live inside of it the longest. But, as it turned out, the contest had ended the day before on a technicality.

But the car was still there on the concourse — a 1996 Lexus with 182,000 miles already on it.

The fact that the Aeros are staging promotions such as “Car Survivor” can largely be attributed to new COO Jim Pfander, who spent the last decade with the Mike Veeck-owned Charleston RiverDogs.

One of Pfander’s beliefs when it comes to in-game entertainment is that “it doesn’t have to make sense. It just has to be fun.” Perhaps that best explains new mascot Homer the Polka-Dot Pigeon.

This hallucinatory inflatable (the result of a staff meeting in which half the room was asked to suggest an animal, and the other half a color combination) is joined by long-time mascot Orbit.

As well as a fast food representative desperately promoting the consumption of a rival species in order to save himself.

And speaking of animal consumption, you may recall that the Aeros received a lot of attention this past offseason after unveiling gargantuan meat creations like the Three Dog Night and Nice 2 Meat You burger.

But such innovations are just a small part of a larger story, which is that the club has totally revamped its concessions. Pfander recruited fellow Charleston RiverDog Jason Kerton to serve as food and beverage director, and under his direction each of the six concourse concession stands has taken on a distinct theme.

For example, “Rabbit Food” is available at the health-conscious “Farmer’s Market.”

The menu at the left field grill stand is considerably less healthy.

A large array of franks are available at “The Dog Pound” (with the menu done up in Cleveland Browns colors).

The Major League-referencing “Jobu’s Voodoo.”

The self-explanatory Biergarten

While “Taters” is the only stand equipped with fryers (which are used to fry up pickles and sauerkraut, among a bevy of more standard fare).

But my food-centric wanderings were soon interrupted, as I was asked if I’d like to throw out a ceremonial first pitch.

But of course!

But don’t let those flawless mechanics fool you — I bounced it, for the first (and I hope only) time in my ceremonial first pitch throwing career.

As penance for this lack of control, I accepted an invitation to spend some time in the dunk tank located down the right field line. But since this necessitated a change of clothes, so I ducked into the team store.

I selected the following retro-themed tee, which was then personalized with “Ben’s Biz” across the back (it’s always great when teams are able to provide this service).

The dunk tank is one of the kid’s area amusements, and usually occupied by interns. $1 buys two throws.

This kid, one “Heckman” from the nearby town of Solon, was relentless. He must have spent at least $15 at the tank, and knocked me into the water again and again and again. In the following picture, I am most likely saying “What the heck, man?” That was my go-to line.

But the water was refreshing, and all in all this was an enjoyable way to spend a couple of innings. I liked interacting with the various kids, and quickly judging whether to taunt them (as with Heckman) or attempt to increase their confidence via exaggerated displays of fear.

Upon leaving the dunk tank, I threw on my shoes and was immediately escorted to the top of the first base dugout for the nightly “Pie an Intern” contest. Usually this is preceded by some sort of trivia contest before the inevitable pie-ing, but time was short so on-field MC Calvin Funkhouser simply told the young contestant to “Go ahead and hit him with a pie.”

And so he did.

The pie was then removed, and I was turned around and put face to face with that menacing triumvirate of faux-Mexican wrestlers. Then, I was hit with a pie again.

Walking back up the stairs toward the concourse, I found it impossible to wipe the smile (or the whipped cream) off of my face. I was soaking wet and covered in whipped cream, and somehow still operating within a professional context.

And to top it all off, it was a beautiful summer evening.

I cleaned myself off the best that I could, changed back into my regularly-scheduled outfit, and met up with Kerton for dinner — Akron Aeros’ style!

Nice 2 Meat You Burger meets Three Dog Night

The Nice 2 Meat You Burger, which could feed two people easily, consists of two 1/3 pound patties, two hot dogs, bacon, cheese, and onions. It is honestly more than a publicity stunt — it’s very tasty. The key is that the meat well-done, providing a uniform crispness throughout.

Keep your distance, Chik-Fil-A cow.

Damp, sticky, smelling like whipped cream, and eating a giant hamburger. The apex of my life so far.

“Dessert” was the Three Dog Night — a hot dog stuffed inside a brat stuffed inside a kielbasa, placed on a hoagie roll and then slathered with sauerkraut and spicy stadium mustard.

This, too, was tasty. But it was more like eating a hot dog stew than some magical combination of meat, in which kielbasa combined with brat to create some heretofore unknown taste combination.

One thing I liked about the Aeros’ approach to “extreme” concessions was that 1. they actually taste good and 2. they are available at all times. And, as a result, they are actually selling. Kerton estimated that through Saturday, intrepid Akronites had consumed 1000 Three Dog Nights and 600 Nice 2 Meat You Burgers.

And it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that the mustard atop of the Three Dog Night is Bertman’s. The Aeros even have it for sale in the gift shop, and I am happy to report that I smuggled it through airport security and now enjoying it in NYC.

Kerton also sent me home with an array of peanuts from the iconic Peanut Shoppe. This Akron institution is located across from the stadium, and their products are available at Canal Park. I really wish I had had the chance to visit.

Another place I wish I could have visited was Chrissy Hynde’s VegiTerranean restaurant. The meatless fare offered by the Pretenders frontwoman would have been a welcome counterpoint to ballpark cuisine. Also, the Pretenders are awesome.

After the game, while gathering my scattered belongings,  I met longtime team owner Mike Agganis. We engaged in a freewheeling and rather absurd conversation, often punctuated with remarks like “I bet you’ve never met an owner like me!”

No, Mr. Agganis, I hadn’t.

After leaving the stadium, I happened upon the latest installment of Akron’s Saturday night “Lock 3 Concert Series.”

That’s Hotel Calfornia up there on the stage, an Eagles tribute band. I have no love for that particular rock entity, but it was an admirably flawless replication. They closed with “Life in the Fast Lane”, an apropos selection for any road trip soundtrack. There’s never a dull moment.

But, for now, I am back within New York City’s comforting embrace. To those who have sent me blog-worthy material over the past week — THANK YOU. It’ll be featured here soon, promise.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Citizenship and Costumed Characters in Toledo

Yesterday’s post ended on a spectacular cliffhanger, in which the ceremonial first pitches at the Toledo Mud Hens game were about to transition into a Naturalization Ceremony. And –spoiler alert! — my MiLB.com article on the ceremony appeared later in the day.

If you haven’t read said article I certainly suggest that you do. I tried real hard and used big words and everything, and there are even links to a photo gallery and player interviews. But in the interest of continuity let me pick up the narrative thread here as well.

As far as I know, the Mud Hens are the only team that stage annual ballpark Naturalization Ceremonies. They were inspired to do so by the parent Detroit Tigers (who served as the venue for Placido Polanco’s naturalization), and this year individuals from 13 countries officially became Americans.

The Honorable David Katz, presiding

Their first act as Americans: shake hands with a Mud Hen

I’ll be honest — a lot of patriotic ballpark events seem to be of the “going through the motions” variety, comprised of standing, rising, rote memorization, and unthinking applause. But I was truly inspired by this, that the 20 people on the field renounced the governments of their native countries in order to make a go of it in Toledo. It was a great reminder that this country is still a wonderful and highly desirable place to live, despite pervasive post-industrial economic malaise compounded by partisan strife and the frequent inability to find something good to eat while writing in a hotel at 1:30 a.m.

And the pomp and circumstance only continued, as one of the first promotions once the game began was the “seat graduation.” I loved the creativity here, as the Mud Hens tweaked the standard seat upgrade gimmick by having the two chosen fans (Steve and Stu from Wisconsin) march to their new seats whilst wearing gowns. Upon arriving at their new location, they were instructed to move their tassels from right to left before sitting down.

But graduation gowns are nothing in the overall scheme of things, for Fifth Third Field is a wall-to-wall funhouse of outlandish costumes. Over the course of the next innings, I ran into the following individuals on the concourse:

The first two individuals are representatives of the ECHL’s Toledo Walleyes, who share an ownership group with the Mud Hens. In fact, many Mud Hens employees also fill a similar capacity with the Walleyes. They’ve got dual-sided business cards and everything.

And that inflatable Mud Hen is just plain terrifying — it has a fully operational tongue and will not hesitate to lick you. And then there are these characters, named after Toledo celebrities Jamie Farr, Jim Leyland, and (in the background) Katie Holmes.

Jim Flealand, Jamie Farrmadillo, Kittie Holmes

These three individuals take part in a nightly on-field race, and I was given the honor of suiting up as Jamie Farrmadillo (who, truth be told, should probably be wearing women’s clothing ala Klinger).

I can’t tell you much about this race, except that I did not win and was winded afterward. I then stuck around with the promo crew for the next inning break, running onto the field and displaying my gross ineptitude with a t-shirt gun. Video of this exists, and I hope to soon share it with you.

But, for now, its best to leave things to the professionals. Like primary mascots Muddy and Muddonna, seen here doing dancing during a between-inning skit.

And wouldn’t you know it? This cavalcade of costumed characters was taking place while there was a professional baseball game going on. Who knew? Here are a few Fifth Third points.

The right field “Roost” overhang, accommodating 350 fans and usually sold as part of a group package.

Concourse, behind home plate:

Outfield walkway:

But all vantage points are enhanced by victory. As this hallucinogenic scoreboard graphic makes clear, victory was indeed achieved.

Welcome to America!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

(I finally hit 1000 Twitter followers yesterday! Thanks, and here’s to 999,000 more!)

Wrapping Up the Road: Sonora Dogs, Settlements, and Swag

A major challenge for me when on the road is finding time to explore the area outside of the ballpark. This has been frustrating, because one of the greatest things about Minor League Baseball is that it organizes and contextualizes American travels. The presence of a Minor League team can serve as motivation to visit a place one otherwise wouldn’t.  And, once there, why not find the time to take in the unique things that the surrounding community has to offer?

A Minor League road trip can (and should) be about much more than baseball. It is, quite simply, about America!

Professional obligations have, thus far, kept me from practicing what I preach in this regard (Click HERE for a sidebar compiling all output on the latest trip: five MiLB.com features, eight blog posts, four photo galleries, and 14 player interviews).

But every once in a while I can sneak something in. On May 12 in Tucson, I acted on a commenter tip and got lunch at El Guero Canelo. This place had great food and tons of character.

The Guero Canelo specialty is the “Sonora Dog”, a Tucson favorite in which the dog is wrapped in bacon and topped with cheese, salsa, onions, tomatoes, beans, mayonnaise and who knows what else. All of this was safely ensconced in the specially-crafted (and delicious) roll and served with a roasted pepper on the side.  Tough to photograph in all its glory, but here’s my attempt:

Soon thereafter I toured Hi Corbett field, and followed that up by taking in its Reid Park surroundings.

May 13 was my first-ever road trip “travel day”, dedicated to driving from Tucson to Lancaster, CA (nearly 600 miles). Along the way I stopped at the “Casa Grande Ruins“, just because I saw a sign. It turned out to be an archaeological site, featuring the remains of an approximately 800 year old Native American settlement.

It’s hard to tell, but the hollowed out area in the picture below is of a ball field.

I’d love to learn more about this ancient game and how it was played, but was put off by this book’s rigorously academic tone. Perhaps someone can summarize for me?

Unfortunately, once I got to California it was pretty much all bizness all the time. I didn’t even have time to check out a tip from reader Rex Doane, what he dubbed “the most pathetic tourist attraction in the continental United States”: Adelanto, CA’s decaying lot of plastic dinosaurs! Fortunately he sent along a picture:

But I am now back in NYC, decaying in front of a keyboard. You may or may not have noticed that I have a new profile  pic, one depicting the serenity I have found amidst my latest haul of road trip swag.

I didn’t actually acquire that vast array of mini-bobbleheads while on the road, but since they are all part of the Lancaster JetHawks’ “Hangar Heroes” series I included them in the photo (Lancaster was one of the teams I visited).  But there was even more stuff I didn’t include.

Lake Elsinore Storm “Homewrecker” shirt, Iowa Cubs yearbook (received in mail), two Tucson Toros yearbooks, Lake Elsinore Storm cap, Cal League Baseball, San Bernardino Spirit Cap, Inland Empire 66ers souvenir baseball, Lancaster JetHawks camo cap, Charlie Sheen-Co De Mayo bobblehead, Lake Elsinore Storm toothbrush, “Goshen and Giddings” book on Visalia baseball history (by Rawhide announcer Donny Baarns), IE 66ers Ken Griffey Jr. “gold” bobblehead.

As you may recall, in my post on the Lancaster JetHawks I expressed a desirous attitude toward the following poster:

Three days later, I was handed this very poster at Lake Elsinore’s The Diamond by Storm fan (and Biz Blog reader) Ryan Bethell. Then, upon my return to NYC, there was a package waiting for me from the Minor League Baseball head office that included the past three editions of said poster.

The funny thing about all this is that with the exception of the poster, I didn’t ask for any of the swag depicted above. But I have a policy of saying yes to everything (both swag offers and requests to participate in aspects of the ballpark experience), and I take home as much as I can stuff into my carry-on luggage. Some of it ends up on my desk here at work, some in my apartment, and much is given away. But I greatly enjoy the absolute randomness of it all, and am quite proud of my ever-growing collection of Minor League detritus.

But one thing I am still missing is the woman of my dreams, who appeared on the Arizona highway like some sort of desert mirage.

I’ll catch up to you eventually, Biz Girl!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: “2 Hours and 43 Minutes of Bliss” in Lake Elsinore

The final team on my “Hill in the Desert” road trip itinerary was the Lake Elsinore Storm, that irreverent crew of Cal League contrarians and trendsetters. My day started not at the ballpark, however, but “Annie’s” — a popular local breakfast and lunch spot. I had been invited there by George and Ryan Bethell, loyal members of the Storm booster club and readers of this blog ever since the latter was featured in a post on fish tossing.

Upon being introduced as a first-time Annie’s patron, I was greeted with a handshake from waitress Wendy. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a newbie!”, she yelled, and the entire restaurant broke out in applause. Then a lobster hat was placed atop my head. Standard operating procedure.

That gentleman in the background is Storm manager Carlos Lezcano. George and Ryan introduced him to me, a gesture that helped to facilitate my clubhouse interview attempts later that afternoon.

I then booked into the Storm’s team hotel, a refreshing change of pace from the generic string of interchangeable lodging houses I’d become accustomed to.

This place doesn’t have the greatest reputation among Cal League players and personnel (pitcher Dirk Hayhurst issued some strong condemnations in his “Bullpen Gospels” memoir), but it has been recently renovated and I found it to be completely acceptable (the excellent internet connection sure helped). But I wasn’t on the road to write about hotels (or to gamble) — I was there for baseball!

The Diamond sure is a great place to watch some.

Like all of the ballparks I visited on this trip, there was plenty of room to move on the inside and out.

Once inside, there is the feeling of being watched.

Those eyes are everywhere!

Even between elevator buttons

And lording over the restroom

The bathroom features induction lighting and waterless urinals, two of many eco-friendly elements to be found around the ballpark. The Storm have been leaders in this area, and are the originators of the “Going Green” promotional nights that have since become common around Minor League Baseball.

Green is one of many clothing colors available in the team store. The Storm have one of the best-selling logos in all of Minor League Baseball (read about it in my MiLB.com piece), and offer a dizzying number of eye-centric clothing choices.

An item available through the club's "Storm Thredz" clothing line

Out of the store and into the open air, some shots from around the ballpark while waiting for the gates to open.

Concessions, where are concessions? Where do you need to be, if you want to eat? (sung to the tune of “Obsession” by Animotion).

Oh, here they are!

The Storm have a fully-operational restaurant on the premises — the Diamond Club. It was closed on on the day I was there due to the team’s “All-You-Can- Eat” Fat Tuesday promotion, but it’s a pretty swanky joint.

I was particularly interested in trying “The Homewrecker,” best explained via t-shirt.

Here’s concessions general manager Arjun Suresh pulling it out of the oven.

Team president Dave Oster, Suresh, and executive chef Steve Bearse marvel at their creation.

The four of us went to the vacant owner’s suite to give it a try. It was delicious! And since it can be easily shared, it’s a bit more justifiable than other recent over-sized items unveiled throughout the Minors.

But my homewrecking companions soon departed (to, you know, do their jobs). After an inning of solitary luxury in the owner’s suite, I went downstairs to watch a couple of innings with the Bethells. They sit just to the left of the screen behind home plate, providing fantastic views.

I had a tough time getting a good shot of it, but the Storm did indeed retire Wild Thing’s #99 as part of their recent “Sheen-Co De Mayo” promotion.

While with the Bethells, I witnessed two top-notch elements of the Storm game entertainment experience. First up was a skit featuring Thunder the mascot. He took the field in order to play fetch with the batboy, who decided to have a laugh at Thunder’s expense by faking a throw. This enraged Thunder, who stole the batboy’s shoe and ran into the dugout. The action then switched to the videoboard, where Thunder was seen abusing the shoe in a number of ways (slamming it in a locker, cooking it in a pot, attempting to flush it down the toilet, etc). Finally, the shoe was thrown out onto the playing field with the humbled batboy limping to get it.

I detailed all of the above because it was an excellent example of a team going above and beyond with their game operations. Even on a cold Tuesday night in a front of a sparse crowd, an effort was made to do something thoughtful, fun, and original. The little things go a long way.

My pictures of Thunder came out very poorly. Thankfully, George Bethell sent over this one. It is of Thunder and his Mom Thunderella:

Also courtesy of Bethell, here’s the Grounds Crew Gorilla.

On Tuesday, the Gorilla was upstaged in a dance contest by a younger, more nimble female gorilla (once again, my pictures were horrible). This enraged him, so he darted into the visiting dugout and then up the hilly berm area. At the top of the hill, he picked up a portion of the fence separating the berm from the concourse and threw it with all his might. The aftermath:

At this point I was thoroughly frozen (note to anyone visiting southern California in May: bring a jacket!), so I decided to visit announcer Sean McCall in his well-appointed play-by-play palace.

Help yourself to a pocket schedule and a toothbrush

Most announcers don’t like to be bothered during games (and I can’t say I blame them), but McCall is uber-hospitable. “Soda, water, beer?” he’ll ask, gesturing to his fully-stocked refrigerator. “Make yourself at home.”

Two unexpected guests in the booth were the mother and aunt of pitcher Hayden Beard, watching him play in person for the first time since a disastrous outing in 2006.

Beard breezed through the eighth inning, to the relief of his extremely nervous family members. Afterwards, mom Vicki spoke with me about how she works as an official scorer in Australia. This is not uncommon, as women make up the majority of scorers in her country. “Men do the on-field stuff, women keep score,” she told me.

McCall is the dean of Cal League broadcasters, and extremely entertaining to listen to. He combines a polished and professional technique with deadpan, absurdist humor — the Harry Nilsson of Minor League broadcasters, perhaps. Sample banter, after a bit in which he shared notable sports moments that had occurred on May 17: “This day in history brought to you by me, reminding you to say please and thank you (pause) Thank you.”

The title of this post is also a McCall quote, uttered upon the conclusion of the ballgame (a 12-1 win over the no-longer voodoo-enhanced Inland Empire 66ers). It was indeed two hours and 43 minutes of bliss.

As for me, my time out west was approximately 190 hours of sleep deprivation and anxiety. But no complaints! It was an honor and a privilege and I thank everyone involved for their hospitality. I’m already plotting the next one.

But, for now, I am ecstatic to be back within NYC’s comforting embrace. And since my return, one of my cats has made a new friend.

Please get in touch, at any time and for any reason. Any reason at all.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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