Results tagged ‘ Visalia Rawhide ’
Part one of this current mini-saga was good for what Visalia, as it detailed the charming quirks, historical markers and reptilian wrath appeasement efforts to be found throughout Rawhide Ballpark. We now pick up where we left off, with the game having just begun.
A modest Sunday evening crowd had filtered in, many of them settling atop the gunite slab of a grandstand (Rawhide Ballpark has just fewer than 2000 fixed seats, the smallest total in affiliated professional baseball).
The ballpark features minuscule amounts of foul territory, meaning that concourse vantage points are very close to the action. And the dugout view is particularly unique, in that you can look straight down on the players below.
As for looking down into the dugouts, this Vine video should illustrate my point. (Also, I like that it captures an audio snippet of someone saying “Colt 45.” I have no idea what this was a reference to as neither guns nor malt liquor are sold at the ballpark.)
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 5, 2013
The up close and personal nature of the ballpark also means that you can hear just about everything that is said. While I was standing here Rancho Cucamonga hitting coach Johnny Washington, who was coaching first base at the time, ambled over to the dugout and said something to the effect of “Did you check the [expletive deleted] outfield? That’s a [expletive deleted] horse [expletive deleted] lead. That’s [expletive deleted] terrible! C’mon!”
Kids, take it from me: if you want to take your profanity game to the next level, then hang out near the dugout at Rawhide Ballpark when the Quakes are in town.
But let’s take things back in to the realm of the family-friendly. Here’s Tipper, the Rawhide mascot (I’m kicking myself now, for neglecting to include him in one of my boVine videos).
A local cheerleading squad was on hand, performing before the game as well as several times during it. Between routines they practiced on the Pasture, which increased the evening’s “charming Americana” factor by 1.5.
A photo collage along the front entrance gates features this absolutely classic moment, from the Rawhide’s absolutely classic “Belle of the Ballpark” promo. (I wrote about the 2011 iteration HERE).
The above photo is across the way from, yes, the best gunite-coated dirt slab to be found in all of Minor League Baseball. Here’s yet another look at it:
But back to the concourse, because I’m not quite sure how I got away from there in the first place. Looking across the way toward the home dugout, I was intrigued by what looked like a painted white cross on the wall. While trying to land a picture of the cross, I instead got this image of crotch-grabbing in action.
And, yes, that is a large white cross painted on the dugout wall. I forgot to get the background story on why it’s there, but it seems out of place within the ostensibly secular confines of the ballpark. (This picture also gives a good indication of the extent to which the concourse is literally atop the dugouts.)
Perhaps the most famous denizen to be found within the home dugout is batboy Les Kissick. He’s held the job for 14 years, and when I first posted the following Vine video it was met with a stream of responses from Visalia diehards along the lines of “Les!!! He’s the best!!!”
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 5, 2013
Meanwhile, one could find guest emcee Chad Stafford, a DJ on Visalia country station KJUG, patrolling the concourse.
Chad had another duty to perform on this particular evening, as the Rawhide had recruited him to serve as the designated eater. (You know, the individual who consumes and critiques the ballpark delicacies that my gluten-free diet prohibits.) He and I soon adjourned to the Hall of Fame Club, where food and beverage director Chris Lukasiewicz was waiting with an array of items.
Welcome Chad and, yes, welcome giant pretzel.
That’s the Texas Twist, a 24 ounce monster whose holes are filled with warm cups of nacho cheese. Chad gave it a try and reported that “it might be a little too salty, but it’s soft on the inside. For one person it’s a bit excessive, but it’s great for a lot of people to share.”
There’s no doubt that this would be way too much pretzel for one person, but nonetheless the Rawhide have devised a “Texas Twist Challenge” that is open to all fans. Lukasiewicz carved out six seconds of his life in order to offer the following explanation:
Could you handle the Texas Twist Challenge? https://t.co/J4m5ld4zrF
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 5, 2013
Meanwhile, I was presented with this off-menu offering, which Lukasiewicz often prepares for the gluten-free girlfriend of a Rawhide front office staffer.
That’s a “Fajita Dog” bratwurst with garlic aioli sauce atop a bed of peppers, onions, melted Montery Jack cheese and fries which have themselves been tossed in fresh minced garlic.
Chad, meanwhile, approved of the burger that had just been presented to him.
That’s the “Cowboy Burger,” to be exact, topped with Kinder’s BBQ sauce, cheese, three slices of Applewood bacon and two onion rings.
Chad, a BBQ aficionado, said that he liked the Cowboy Burger because “the onion rings are great and whatever cheese they use is perfect for it.”
But as for what cheese that is, I neglected to find out. It shall always remain a mystery.
Less of a mystery is this, the final item to be highlighted:
Those nachos are of the “loaded asada” variety: nacho cheese, shredded cheese, salsa, dried onion, jalapenos and your choice of meat.
“The salsa, that’s the kicker,” said Chad, who’s been a presence on the Visalia airwaves over the last eight years. “And it’s all covered, which is just how I like it.”
Also all covered is the food portion of the evening. Thanks to Lukasiewicz and thanks, of course, to Chad.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 5, 2013
Out on the concourse I struck up a conversation with Rawhide community relations manager/Hispanic marketing manager/on-field emcee Jesus Romero (he of the gluten-free girlfriend). As you can see, Jesus is loyal to his employer.
With the game in its final third, I slowed my pace and did a final lap around the ballpark.
I then settled into a seat in Row M, the highest vantage point available at Rawhide Ballpark (save for the skyboxes).
Or, if awkwardly conceived panoramas are more your thing:
The ballgame was tied entering the bottom of the ninth inning, meaning that it time for a visit from Jesus Romero and the Rally Squad.
RALLY SQUAD!!! https://t.co/GQuJoW320a
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 5, 2013
The Rally Squad are great at their jobs, as in the bottom of the ninth inning this place was rocking! Visalia fans know how to support the hometown team.
The Rally Squad did its job. This crowd is into it ! https://t.co/otWJGmGkEy
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 5, 2013
And with the place a rocking the Rawhide offense came a knockin,’ as Tom Belza singled to lead off the inning and, two batters later, scored on a Sean Jamieson single. It was a good day to be a Rawhide fan and, thus, a good day for me to have visited.
As the crowd filed out I paid one last visit to team broadcaster/historian/reptile hex articulator Donny Baarns, whose computer screen displayed a list of dozens of ways to say “here’s the pitch.” Perhaps he should get a copy of The Baseball Thesaurus?
And that was all that she wrote (she being me, of course).
Gunite from Visalia!
“Structurally unique, I guess you’d call it.”
That’s how Visalia Rawhide broadcaster Donny Baarns summed up Rawhide Ballpark, his place of employment since 2008. And with Donny, I would agree. This place is structurally unique.
At its core, the ballpark (known as “Recreation Park” for the majority of its existence) is as no-frills as they come. The current grandstand, built in 1963, is little more than a huge mound of dirt repurposed from Route 198 construction efforts poured over with concrete and gunite. I don’t know much about gunite (Baarns told me it was “all the rage in the ’60s, apparently”), but it appears to be a construction method in which concrete is shot out of a hose. Who Pneu?
The grand gunnite structure seen above faces outward toward this idyllic (at least at that moment) intersection.
On the inside, there’s a whole lot more than just an outsized gunnite slab. A series of renovations over the years 2003-2011 has given the ballpark a second life and then some, with a 360 degree cavalcade of new wild west and/or dairy-themed additions.
Here we are in “The Pasture,” a grass seating area wrapping around the right field foul line.
There is a small parking lot behind the terrace, and a quite verdant lot at that, but vehicular occupation of this area will soon cease to be as the Rawhide are partnering with the local Rotary Club and turning it into a “Splash Pad” that will be open to the public on non-game days as well.
This sign shows the distance from Visalia to other Diamondbacks affiliates as well as the distance to the parent club. Of course, the “Yakima” sign is no longer valid as that franchise has since moved to Hillsboro (the concluding stop on this very road trip). Also, I find it interesting that there is a “Visalia 0″ sign. I mean, isn’t that implied? That when you are in a certain location then you are zero distance away from it? Right now, I am 0 miles away from writing this blog post although I was I wish I was .25 miles away playing pinball in my local laundromat.
Anyhow, signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs.
That Kirby Puckett quote is in such a prominent position because Kirby is the lone Visalia player to have been enshrined in Cooperstown. He played the entire 1983 season as a member of the Visalia Oaks (his lone full Minor League campaign), and hit .314-9-97 and stole 48 bases over 138 games. A more recent assortment of notable Visalia alumni can be seen in this photo collage located to the right of the bar.
Fans of chronology, gunnite, and the intersection of the two will really and truly love this ballpark. (I’m hoping that this appears as a pull quote in future Rawhide promotional materials)
As will fans of history in general. Baarns (who, given his name, should really be working in Double-A), has worked hard to research and publicize the rich history of Visalia baseball. He gave a speech about just this at the 2011 Baseball Winter Meetings, which soon led to this impeccably written MiLB.com article.
For one final bit of history, we go to the Visalia Hall of Fame located along the concourse on the first base side.
The final plaque features not a player, but a team.
Would you believe that even though the Cal League only has 10 teams, and that, currently, six of those teams make the playoffs every season, 1978 marks the last time that Visalia has won a championship? After some diligent research, the team was able to ascertain that this prolonged title drought (and a long string of bad luck in general) can be attributed to the vengeful ghost of Joe Charboneau’s pet alligator. His name was Chopper.
This curse is totally legit, as I discovered, and for far more please read my MiLB.com piece that is dedicated to this subject and this subject only. Those who are truly serious about appeasing this spiritually unsettled deceased reptile can buy these shirts in the team store.
Meanwhile, this Chopper replica can sometimes be seen lurking about the Pasture.
Rawhide GM Jennifer Pendergraft told me that she always wanted a pet alligator and, thus, wanted to get one for the ballpark.
“But it turns out that they’re highly illegal in California,” she said. “And I didn’t want to have PETA coming after us.”
Those seeking refuge from alligators, or the ghosts of alligators, or whatever it is that’s going on right now, would do well to visit the Fan Dugout. Here, there is no afterlife turmoil to be found.
The Rawhide have what just may be the least amount of foul territory in all of Minor League Baseball, and as such these seats might be closer to the action than anywhere else. (I know that the Asheville Tourists, among other clubs, would beg to differ). At any rate, these dugout seats are available for groups of 20-25 and Baarns noted that they are “great for softball or Little League teams.”
The view, obscured:
Moving back to the concourse, one can visit the Watering Hole in order to satiate any lingering food and beverage needs.
One of those food options is tacos, which, pictorially, look delicious.
From there, our tour moves across the way to the Snakebite Saloon — because nothing says refreshment like dying a slow and agonizingly painful death as poisonous venom courses through your system! (The establishment’s slogan, if my notes are to be believed.)
The prices at the Snakebite Saloon seemed reasonable enough to me, but either way they’ve got you over a barrel.
Take these broken wings and learn to fly because in the nearby Cold Zone they have misters, Mister.
At this juncture of the evening the gates were open and it was nearing game time.
Baarns and I headed up toward his press box abode, but not before one final tour stop. To once again paraphrase my favorite insufferable protest chant: this is what a Class A Advanced Skybox looks like:
The view toward the field:
And the views from behind:
On the cusp of game time, I retreated to the Rawhide commissary and furtively ate some Buffalo Wild Wings (gluten-free!) like a scared chipmunk.
And with that moment of dignity, I’ll conclude Part One of this Visalia blogging saga. Hopefully Part Two will be Gator than the sum of its parts.
When I’m on the road I always have so much to write about, both here on the blog and over at MiLB.com. This content overload is a good thing, but one negative aspect of it is that I can’t devote enough of my attention to that which is taking place outside of the places I visit.
C’est la vie, as the French say (when they’re giving examples of the cliched French terms that Americans actually know).
But right now? Right now I’m not on the road, nor do I have any more “On the Road” content. Therefore, today will be the first in a short series of bouillabaisse posts, in which I jump haphazardly from item to item with startling rapidity. Commence organized chaos and — warning! — some of this material is rather dated. I’m working my way through this backlog in chronological fashion.
Apropos of nothing — is R.A. Coon the best front office name in Minor League Baseball, or does Lexington’s Ty Cobb retain that honor?
— Beloit Snappers (@BeloitSnappers) March 20, 2013
(Regardless, THIS is the best blog post written by a Minor League broadcaster about someone named R.A.)
You may have seen my recent MiLB.com article about the Jacksonville Suns’ Casey Challenge, in which team president Peter “Pedro” Bragan challenges area school students to memorize the poem.
Well, speaking of the Bragans, did you know that the Suns gave away a “talking bobblehead” of Pete Bragan, Sr., the iconic team owner who passed away last season?
— Jacksonville Suns (@SunsBaseball) March 20, 2013
It really talks. Listen!
(And speaking, as I was, of “Casey at the Bat” — my favorite rendition, by far, is Tug McGraw narrating the poem while backed by Peter Nero and Philadelphia Pops Orchestra. I have it on record, and if anyone would like to assist with the LP-to-computer uploading process then let me know because I need to share it with the world at large.)
The Lehigh Valley IronPigs have long had an almost maniacal propensity for pig-related puns (the Pork Illustrated game program, for example, or a conference room for “Boar”d Meetings). These days, said puns are practically avant-garde.
The team has named its frozen yogurt bar the “Soo’eyte Spot.” You figure it out.
How sweet it is! The Soo’eeyte spot frozen yogurt bar is having its grand opening tonight at Coca-Cola Park! twitter.com/IronPigs/statu…
— IronPigs (@IronPigs) April 5, 2013
I have no idea how or why this happened (and it seems to have happened on multiple occasions), but the Erie SeaWolves are most likely the only team to have a Dr. Batboy.
I would like for there to be a band named “Dr. Batboy.”
— Eric Brookhouser (@ebrook24) April 12, 2013
Meanwhile, via Visalia broadcaster Donny Baarns, this photo of multi-generational intolerance:
— Donny Baarns (@DonnyBaarns) April 14, 2013
And, that’s it for now. Much more where this came from, as soon as time allows.
I took a vacation day on Friday. It was a vacation that brought me all the way to my kitchen, which I cleaned.
Also on Friday, my latest “Minoring in Business” article appeared on MiLB.com. It was about using a team’s history as a promotional tool, and focused on an in-depth project undertaken by the Visalia Rawhide.
The article was inspired by broadcaster Visalia broadcaster Donny Baarns, who gave a speech at the Winter Meetings entitled “Learning From Orwell: How History Can Enhance Your Club’s Brand.” There are many advantages to a historically-minded marketing approach (read the article!) but one of Baarns’ more unexpected examples was this: re-connecting with old sponsors.
In 1952, Buckman-Mitchell Insurance had their name at the top of the club’s pocket schedules.
At some point along the way, Buckman-Mitchell stopped sponsoring Visalia’s professional baseball team. But upon being shown the schedule seen above, the company is now back on (bill)board.
Visalia’s efforts have been particularly impressive, but historically-minded promotions and displays can be found throughout Minor League Baseball. The Rickwood Classic, in which the Birmingham Barons return to their former home for an afternoon of nostalgia, is a justly-celebrated annual tradition. I was lucky enough to attend in 2010.
Also in 2010, the Mobile BayBears opened the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum. In an unprecedented effort, they moved Hank Aaron’s childhood home to the grounds of the stadium, renovated it, and re-opened it as a museum.
I attended the opening, which was attended by luminaries even more luminous than myself.
And then there are the Delmarva Shorebirds, whose stadium hosts the “Eastern Shore Baseball Hall of Fame.”
Finally, last week I took to Twitter in order to ask “In what ways do you promote your team’s history, at the ballpark and otherwise?”
I got a wide range of responses, including the following:
Bowie Baysox: Celebrating 20th anniversary this season. Articles on website recapping past seasons, and several events scheduled during season.
Connecticut Tigers: Pay tribute to Norwich’s previous franchise by staging “Navigator’s Night” promotions with throwback jerseys.
Hagerstown Suns: Put out a “Legends” baseball card set honoring players from throughout the past three decades.
Harrisburg Senators: All time roster on a board, and pictures of the ballpark going back 60 to 70 years.
High Desert Mavericks: Year-by-year Opening Day line-ups displayed on stadium pillars.
Inland Empire 66ers: 66ers celebrated 25 years last season. Had articles on team history, wore throwbacks every Tuesday and did themed giveaways.
The San Jose Giants went ahead a sent a few photos, of the hand-painted murals and timelines located throughout the ballpark.
And on and on it goes. This is the part of the blog where, without the slightest hint of disingenuosness, I ask YOU to get in touch. In what ways is history celebrated and promoted by your favorite Minor League team? What else could be done?
New York-Penn League games are rarely played in the presence of Hall of Famers, but that was the case in Norwich, CT on Monday. None other than Al Kaline visited Dodd Stadium, and he had good reason to do so.
His grandson, Colin, plays second base for the hometown Connecticut Tigers.
Putting a new twist on the term “Al Kaline Battery,” Al threw out the game’s ceremonial first pitch. Colin was on the receiving end.
Prior to this high-arced ceremonial offering (a perfect strike, by all accounts), Al set up shop on the concourse and signed just about everything placed in front of him.
His signature graced the playing field as well, though I don’t think a blue sharpie was the instrument of choice.
In a press release issued yesterday, the C-Tigers reported that the night was a “booming success.” Sez the team:
Al Kaline had the opportunity to watch his grandson reach base twice and score twice as part of the Tigers 10-0 drubbing of the Lowell Spinners. So, by the end of the night, the lucky fans in the building not only had a chance to see a living legend in person, but also got to see a big Tigers win.
That’s all well and good, but I’ve got to take issue with the press release’s use of the word “booming.” When you’re the Tigers, all your successes should be categorized as “roaring.”"Booming” successes are better suited to the Lake Elsinore Storm, Trenton Thunder, and, of course, Nashville Sounds.
Al Kaline Night happened two nights ago, but now I’d like to transition to an “udderly” successful event that was held two months ago: The Visalia Rawhide’s annual pre-game Cow Milking Contest.
From the NYPL to nipples, here we go:
(credit for all cow milking photos: Chris Henstra/Visalia Rawhide)
The team issued an excellent press release synopsis of the event, packed with photos and descriptive detail. (My apologies for taking so long to get around to it. Better late than never, right?) Sez the team:
The cow milking event started out as a normal tag-team contest among Rawhide players: the “Latin Mafia” team (made up of Christian Beltre, Yonata Ortega, Diogenes Rosario, Victor Capellan, and California League All-Star catcher Rossmel Perez) vs. the “Bovine Bombers” (formed by Ryan LaPensee, Brian Budrow, Kevin Munson, Raul Torrez, and California League All-Star outfielder Adam Eaton).
The Bovine Bombers did their homework, and admitted to researching cow milking techniques to prepare for the competition, but they were still no match for the Latin Mafia.
But here’s where it gets interesting.
Upon the conclusion of the Rawhide team’s competition, two Bakersfield Blaze players (Frank Pfister and Curtis Partch) sauntered out of the dugout in old west chaps, and challenged the Latin Mafia to a milk-off.
Thus closed another fine milk-off battle in Wild West Visalia.
And thus closes this, the latest and therefore greatest installment of the never-ending Biz Blog saga. Thanks, as always, for reading. And please — tell a friend.
To that end, today’s post features my 10 favorite photographs from the recently deceased campaign. All of these pictures appeared on this blog at some point during the season, and are presented in the order in which they originally appeared.
Remember — it is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. Let’s all take a look at once was:
Snowpening Day — Freezing precipitation prevented the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers from playing their first scheduled home game, causing the players to release their start-of-the-season aggression upon hapless snowmen (note the Rattlers’ scoreboard message, a nice example of thinking ahead).
Catatonic Cauliflower — Jerry “The King” Lawler visited Reading’s FirstEnergy Stadium, leaving no doubt as to his feelings regarding rampaging vegetables.