Results tagged ‘ West Coast 2013 ’

Return to the Road: Gems and Craters in the Pacific Northwest

Okay, for real this time: Today’s post marks the last occasion in which I “Return to the Road” in order to write about my 2013 West Coast trip. My next post will include all four of this season’s road trip itineraries, the first of which kicks off on April 28 in Albuquerque.

So where did I leave off?

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Oh, right: In Klamath Falls, Ore., home of the collegiate wood bat league Gems. I arrived in Klamath Falls at the end of a travel day, choosing it as a place to spend the night so that I could visit Crater Lake the next morning before moving on to Hillsboro to check out the Hops. Seeing a baseball game during my brief time in Klamath Falls was not something I planned on doing; in fact, I hadn’t even been aware of the Gems existence until the front desk clerk at the Days Inn alerted me to the fact that a game was going on. While I had been looking forward to a night off from the ballpark routine, seeing the Gems was just too serendipitous of an opportunity to pass up. Kiger Stadium, an all-wood facility constructed in 1948, happened to be locating just across the street from where I was staying!

So, I did what any self-respecting baseball fan would do in such a situation: I hightailed it on over there in order to catch what remained of the ballgame. Kiger, as you can see, delivers a rustic and picturesque baseball environment.

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Kiger Stadium hosted the Far West League Klamath Falls Gems from 1948-51, but since then all of the baseball played there has been of the amateur variety (the Gems are in the West Coast League, comprised of premier collegiate players). From the Kiger Stadium website (which, as you’ll see, hasn’t been updated in a few years):

Kiger Stadium has been far from empty during years since the Far West League. The ballpark has been home to tens of thousands of American Legion, Babe Ruth League, college and high school games through the years. In 2011, Oregon Tech, Mazama High School, the Klamath Falls Falcons and Hawks (American Legion) and local Babe Ruth Baseball teams will call the historic ballpark home.

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I also discovered that the 1951 Gems squad included game show host Bert Convy. This is the picture that accompanies Convoy’s Wikipedia page:

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In addition to hosting Tattletales, Super Password, and Win, Lose or Draw, Convoy was an actor whose myriad roles included sleazeball Glenn Hamilton in the soap opera Love of Live. He also appeared in the in the pilot episode of Murder, She Wrote and directed the Goodspeed Opera House premiere of the musical Zapata (which featured music and lyrics written by Harry Nilsson, one of my all-time heroes).

Before falling down this internet rabbit hole any further, let me get back to the matter at hand: Kiger Stadium, circa 2014.

047By the time I arrived at the stadium it was the bottom of the fourth inning. No one was manning the front entrance, and I just strolled right in.

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The seventh inning stretch was a charming experience, a six-second snippet of which can be viewed HERE (man, I wish I could embed Vine videos on this blog). Once that requisite bit of national pastime tradition was in the books, I moved over to the bleacher seating area located down the first base line.

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Tater the mascot. coming through:

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The existence of Tater tipped me off to the fact that potatoes must be important to Klamath Falls. And, of course, they are. Here’s an overview of the region’s potato history, courtesy of the internet.

I didn’t get any food while I was at Kiger, potatoes or otherwise, and my photos of the concession stand are, unfortunately, non-existent. Kiger is unique, however, in that the concession stand was located indoors, at the end of a hallway.

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Klamath Falls is home to spuds, and it’s also home to bugs. This photo only hints at just how many winged creatures were swarming the lamp posts at the end of the evening.

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This lackluster act of bug documentation was the last thing I did while at Kiger Stadium. With the Gems game in the books, I headed back across the street to the Days Inn and got a good night’s sleep in advance of waking up bright and early in order to visit Crater Lake.

Crater Lake, located about an hour from Klamath Falls, is, to put it simply, the most beautiful place that I have ever visited in my life. Formed within a caldera created by the collapse of a volcano, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in America (nearly 2000 feet) and the water boasts a deep blue color that seems almost otherwordly. I would have loved to have spent several days here, camping, hiking, boating, and taking in the view from the lodge. Instead I had to settle for 90 minutes of idle wandering along the upper perimeter instead. Not ideal, but beggars can’t be choosers.

I don’t have a particularly high quality camera, nor am I a particularly skilled photographer. Crater Lake is just this beautiful:

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The high rollers of south central Oregon travel to Crater Lake in limousines with Mitt Romney bumper stickers and chintzy advertisements emblazoned across the sides.

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Motorcycles are a far more common mode of transportation, however, at least on this particular morning.

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After (reluctantly) leaving Crater Lake, I got lunch at Highway 97’s self-proclaimed best restaurant.

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And then it was on to Hillsboro, home of the Hops. (My time with the Northwest League’s newest entity was chronicled HERE). After a night game and a day game in Hillsboro, the trip (and my 2013 travel in general) came to a conclusion in Portland. I spent one evening there before flying back to New York City, with fellow MLBAM employee Jared Ravech serving as a tour guide. Here I am, blocking the view.

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I had a really fun evening in Portland, but at this point it’s all kind of a blur. Pinball was definitely involved.

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And that — finally! mercifully! — is that. The next post on this blog will contain this season’s road trip itineraries. Here we go again…

(In the meantime, should you be looking for something to read, check out my new book round-up on MiLB.com)

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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

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

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

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

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

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My core musical tastes, circa 1989:

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My core musical tastes, circa 1999:

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Cassettes for a quarter:

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Buyer Beware:

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Finally, a gluten-free pop artist:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Beyond Bigfoot:

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

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

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

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

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

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Also featured: archaic equipment and pop culture detritus.

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

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

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

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

I hope that makes sense.

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

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

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

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

What?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s a lot going on.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: From One Record Store to Another

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: Visalia, Modesto, and Fresno In-Between

Welcome to the latest installment of “Return to the Road,” in which I re-trace my steps during my third and final road trip of the 2013 campaign in order to bring you all of the non-ballpark content that’s fit to print. The previous post in the series began in amid the vast expanse of Bakersfield and ended at Visalia’s Lamp Liter Inn, surely one of the quaintest team-affiliated hotels in all of Minor League baseball.

The Lamp Liter still issues honest-to-God keys, and the room signage was a definite blast from the past.

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The on-site diner was similarly retro:

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Before leaving Visalia I headed downtown and took a stroll. Most of the Central Valley California towns I visited on this trip were rough-around-the-edges and possessed an air of general economic despair, but the core of Visalia I found to be surprisingly vibrant. A brief photo tour, starting with a record store that was, unfortunately, closed on Mondays (marking the second day in a row my attempts to visit a local record store were thwarted).

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I was very taken with Visalia, but my momentary illusion that it was some sort of small town utopia quickly received a reality check.

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I didn’t get any lunch in Visalia. My next stop was Fresno, and in that city my first order of business was to go on a brief tour of notable area taco trucks. This tour, arranged by members of the Fresno Grizzlies front office, was covered extensively on MiLB.com. In brief, I had a really good time!

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My time at that evening’s Fresno Grizzlies game has also been extensively documented. Among many highlights of my time at the ballpark was my encounter with this particularly committed “designated eater” (ie, the individual recruited at each ballpark to consume the gluten-free cuisine that my celiac disease prohibits).

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The next day I made a pit stop at E. Olive Street in Fresno.

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This particular record store was called Spinners. Welcome!

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I picked up a few moderately-priced used classic rock LPs (Michael Nesmith, Humble Pie, Black Oak Arkansas), bantered with the friendly clerks for a bit, and then was on my way out of Fresno.

Next stop: Modesto, home of the Nuts. As is my standard operating procedure on these trips, I entered the ballpark while waving to my fans while riding atop a ’59 Corvette.

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You can read all about my evening with the Nuts HERE. Part three of this series will pick up with my wanderings the next day in Modesto. A visit to a record store may have been involved.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: In-N-Out of Bakersfield and on to Visalia

The 2014 season is almost upon us, and my recent realization of its imminence quickly led to another, related, realization: I had better finish writing about my 2013 road trips!

As you probably know, I went on three road trips during the 2013 campaign: A Southern Swing, some Midwest League Meandering, and, finally, a little bit of West Coast Wandering. Every last ounce of material from those first two trips has been wrung dry, but, today, it’s time to “Return to the Road” for the third and final time this season. I have odds and ends from the West Coast to share!

This particular trip took place in August, beginning in Bakersfield, Calif. and concluding in Hillsboro, Ore. I arrived in Bakersfield at about 3:30 on Saturday morning, after driving in from LAX, and following a good night’s sleep I pulled back the hotel room curtain to reveal this landscape.

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Just across this vast expanse of asphalt was a water park, an appropriate entertainment destination for those residing within this arid atmosphere.

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After sleeping late and doing a little bit of writing, there wasn’t much time to explore Bakersfield before heading to that evening’s Blaze game. So, rather unambitiously, I set my GPS coordinates toward a local In-N-Out Burger.

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While I find the slavish devotion of its chief adherents to be a bit comical, there is no doubt that In-N-Out Burger is an above-average fast food establishment. I’ve made a point to eat there whenever I’m on the west coast, but this time around my patronage was strategic as well. I was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2012, and since then good gluten-free fast food options have been hard to come by. In-N-Out Burger, with its minimal, fresh menu, provides an easy option: protein style, in which lettuce is used as a bun (yes, I promise that there is a burger somewhere in there). The fries are “animal style,” with a thousand island-esque dipping sauce.

2916I spent that evening at Sam Lynn Stadium, home of the Blaze, which resulted in some of my best writing of the season (if I do say so myself, which I just did). The next morning I checked out of the Marriott — watch the Vine! — and spent an hour or so exploring downtown Bakersfield. Here’s “Lyles College of Beauty,” which I drove past while en route to World Records.

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World Records was closed.

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The Prospect Lounge — where Bakersfield’s Minor League elite go to eat?

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Amid this desultory wandering I located another record store and this, too, was closed.

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Did anybody go to this show? If so, I’d be happy to publish your review on this blog.

Since there didn’t seem to be too many lunch options in downtown Bakersfield proper, I instead went, once again, to In-N-Out Burger. Different location, but the meal remained the same. (Perhaps also worth noting is that, according to my notes, Bakersfield’s 89.7 is a “great radio station.” Further investigation reveals that to be KSVG “Savage Radio,” a community-owned non-profit.)

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The evening before, while attending the Blaze game, assistant general manager Philip Guiry told me about a vintage store called “Hidden Treasures” that he was a fan of. It sounded like an offbeat place, the kind of spot you go to if you’re trying to make a doll head necklace, so I decided to try and check it out.

My “Hidden Treasures” internet research brought me to, well, I don’t know where I was. All I know is that I couldn’t find a place called “Hidden Treasures.”

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Since I wasn’t in the market for a 420 evaluation, I reluctantly left the Bakersfield area for good. Visalia, home of the Rawhide, was next up on the agenda, and my first impression of Visalia was distinctly positive. Welcome to the Lamp Liter Inn, one of the quaintest team hotels one can find in the world of Minor League Baseball.

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That Sunday evening I attended the Visalia Rawhide game, writing about alligator hexes and giant pretzels and whatnot. The next morning began at the Lamp Liter Inn, and that’s where tomorrow’s post shall begin as well. Until then, I remain,

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Firsts among Lasts in Hillsboro

When Part One of this Hillsboro dispatch concluded I was standing in the tunnel adjacent to the visitor’s dugout, ready and waiting to participate in a between-inning contest. The kneepads were affixed and the blindfold was on, but then something got in the way of my imminent humiliation. Let’s go to the Vine.

This turned into a torrential downpour in a hurry, and the game continued a minute or two longer than it really should have. This continuation of play in the midst of severe precipitation was much to the consternation of the Dust Devils dugout.

In the above Vine it’s not profanity that you hear, but an angry cry of “That’s Bolshevik!” I constantly heard this word in Minor League dugouts this season, and still don’t quite understand the connotation, but shortly after hearing this word yelled in their direction the umpires did indeed agree to the cessation of play. My moment of on-field “glory” would have to wait.

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Cue the interrobang because guess what?! This was THE FIRST RAIN DELAY IN HILLSBORO HOPS HISTORY. I’ve been to a lot of ballparks in my life, and seen a lot of things, but never have I witnessed a meteorological event as significant as this. I and the 3,528 fans in attendance on this sodden August Oregon evening will always be able to say, the pride evident in our respective voices, that “I was there.” (To the Hops front office: when you do the inevitable “First Franchise Rain Delay” commemorative t-shirt giveaway next season, please make sure to send one my way.)

The good news was that the turf at Hillsboro Ballpark was of the artificial variety, and therefore not much was needed in the way of tarp application: all that needed coverage was the pitcher’s mound and batter’s box.  The bad news was that the grounds crew, for several agonizing minutes, was nowhere to be found (I think they were doing work on one of the other fields in the athletic complex of which Hillsboro Ballpark is a part?)

But, eventually, the grounds crew showed up and everything was put in order.

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“Dude, first rain delay in franchise history and we were the ones who got to call it!” is what I’m pretty sure this umpire was saying to his cohort. (I’m sure there are some people who will call bolshevik on that quote, but I stand by it.)

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The grounds crew might not have been totally prepared for the rain delay, but Barley was.

The rains were fast, furious, and fleeting (alliterative life metaphor). After approximately half an hour the adorable mini-tarps were taken off the field, and the grounds crew started tamping things back into shape. As they did, a marriage proposal played out on the videoboard.

“There may have been a brief cessation in play, but there will never be a cessation of our love,” said the man.

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I wish that couple all the best, but, for me, the promise of lifelong love took a backseat to the threat of imminent humiliation. (I’m used to it). “Here we are now, entertain us,” demanded this throng of Pacific Northwesterners….

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and the Hops obliged by sending me out on to the field blindfolded, spinning me around in circles, and then leaving me to the mercy of the crowd’s ostensibly accurate “warmer/colder” exhortations as a means to locate some sort of prize box.

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Colder.

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Colder:

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Colder.

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Colder.

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Coldest.

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Whatever. I didn’t want whatever was in that box anyway. It probably, like, had gluten in it or something.

Not that I had time to be a sore loser anyway, as immediately after my final on-field failure of the season I scurried up to the second level and did a half-inning on the radio with Hops announcer Rich Burk.

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Burk is a veteran broadcaster with far more credentials than your average Class A Short Season shot-caller, as, among other things, he served as the Portland Beavers’ play-by-play man until their departure for Tucson following the 2010 campaign. During the half-inning I was on the air we talked about my travels  in general and, more specifically, the fact that I suffer from the ceremonial first pitch version of Steve Blass disease. (I felt dizzy throughout, still feeling the effects of my on-field humiliation.)

And that was that. I took a broadcast booth selfie and then commenced to wander about by myself for a bit.

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The solo wandering didn’t start off so well, as I ducked in to an upper level bathroom and then left quickly under duress upon seeing a Playtex dispenser. I thought I had somehow ended up in a women’s room, but it turned out that it was a unisex bathroom and, therefore, my gender confusion was unwarranted. Whew! The last thing I need is people starting rumors that they saw Ben’s Biz walking into the ladies room with a camera and a notebook.

Anyway, here’s a picture that I took just outside the unisex bathroom. It depicts right-hander Blake Perry (or at least I think that’s Blake Perry), who never actually pitched for the Hops. But he did pitch for Hops’ predecessor the Yakima Bears in 2011 and 2012, meaning that his Arizona Diamondbacks Class A Short Season credentials remain impeccable.

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 Wherefore art thou, press box denizens? In line for the unisex bathroom?

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The seating bowl below these invisible media members was far more lively.

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As I observed last season in Eugene and (especially) Vancouver, the Northwest League is home to some grade-A baseball fans (although, in Vancouver, that would be “grade-eh”).

“Having Too Much Fun May Distract From the Actual Game” went one of the lighthearted stadium signs…

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but I found this one to be more apropos.

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I’m going to let the Vine do the talking.

But, as with everything else in life, there are two sides to every story. (Also, I have no idea what that kid is wearing on his head.)

After following the fair weather fans outside so that I could harangue them further, I got distracted by the public art project that was detailed in Part One of this Hillsboro blog series.  It looked more beautiful at night, because everything does.

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I made it back inside in time for “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” which is sung nightly by Burk while leaning out of the press box (he used to do the same while broadcasting at Portland’s PGE Park).

The stretch is followed by the House of Pain parody “Hop Around,” in which Barley and game day employees lead the crowd in, yes, hopping around. My attempt to document said hopping on this particular evening was a failure.

But the Hops players didn’t join me on board the failure train, however, as they scored three runs in the seventh to secure a 6-3 victory over (didn’t) Tri (hard enough) City. A word to the wise: once a Hops game ends, wait a few minutes before trying to exit the stadium. Otherwise you’ll end up in an agonizingly slow line of disproportionately white-haired people.

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Now, under normal circumstances, the post would end here. But these are not normal circumstances, as I attended the following afternoon’s game as well. This was my final day at the ballpark, not just of this road trip but of 2013 overall, and it turned out to be a beautiful afternoon.

On the way into Hillsboro Ballpark I put together a whimsical signage Vine:

Upon arriving I conducted a couple of interviews that would eventually form the basis of THIS STORY about the farcical events that surrounded the first home run in Hillsboro Hops history. One of those interviews brought me down to the home dugout.

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003Seeing that Hillsboro logo reminds me that, somehow, I never visited the team store during my two days at Hillsboro Ballpark. The Hops were the number-one selling team on the Minor League Baseball merch charts at the time that I visited, thanks to an enthusiastic reception from the local fan base combined with interest nationwide from baseball fans/beer aficionados who were simply enamored with the team name and logo.

The players mingled on the field while the fans mingled out front.

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I toe the line when it comes to the gluten-free diet that celiac disease has imposed upon me.

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But, this being the Hops and all, I still felt compelled to document their signature Long Ball Ale to an extent greater than I had in the previous post. Therefore, I issued the following tweet:

Soon enough, a season ticket holder named Dani Mullen approached me and said “So, anyone get that beer yet?” The answer was no, of course, so the beer became hers.

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Dani is originally from Fort Wayne (hence the TinCaps t-shirt), but moved to Oregon after 13 years of living in Arizona. She and her husband Allan were fans of Rich Burk when he called games for the Beavers, and she told me that having him here in Hillsboro was “the icing on the cake” when it comes to being a Hops fan. In fact, it was through her listening to my interview with Burk the night before that she knew who I was in the first place.

But anyway, Dani said that the Long Ball Ale was “good, a little bitter, and very hearty. It gets better as you drink it.”

Thanks, Dani, for being the first “designated drinker” in Ben’s Biz Blog history. (Perhaps I can recruit individuals for this position during my 2014 road trips?)

Allan, Dani, and Long Ball Ale:

012My pace was leisurely during this, my last “On the Road” ballgame of the 2013 season. I got some garlic fries and ate ‘em on the outfield berm.

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I made it back to the area behind home plate in time for “Hop Around.”

And then spent an inning watching the game with Bob Webster, a recently retired Intel employee who is now writing a book on the history of the Northwest League.

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Bob, a member of the SABR Bio Committee, encourages anyone with information or suggestions pertaining to NWL history to contact him at bob234@comcast.net

Meanwhile, the professionals on the field soon gave way to amateurs.

021022 Which gave way to my belated realization that I have a couple of ballpark panorama photos to share.

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And that, finally, is all I have to share from the road. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for an offseason of plentiful content (including the 1000th post in Ben’s Biz Blog history).

Until then, goodbye from Hillsboro.

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benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: On the Cusp of a Historical First in Hillsboro

My last stop on this West Coast road trip, and in 2013 overall, was Hillsboro, Oregon. This marked the first time that I visited Oregon since way back in, well, 2012, when I stopped by Eugene and Salem-Keizer on my way into Washington and, eventually, the foreign soil of Vancouver, Canada. But I had a reason to return to this area so quickly, as Hillsboro is home to 2013’s lone new team: the Hops of the Northwest League. The Hops are the franchise formerly known as the Yakima Bears, whom I also visited last season, and while the primary owners and much of the front office staff remained intact these two baseball environments have virtually nothing else in common. Go ahead and contrast this post with the Yakima dispatch linked to above and you’ll see what I mean.

The Hops fill the Portland-area professional baseball void that has existed ever since the Pacific Coast League Portland Beavers departed for Tucson following the 2010 season, and as such the fledgling franchise can draw on a deeply-engaged and (perhaps more important when it comes to long-term success) deep-pocketed fan base. Intel and Nike both have headquarters in Hillsboro, and visible from the stadium are construction cranes working on Intel’s multi-billion dollar research facility. It boggles the mind, really — just a few days ago I had been in Stockton, a city that had recently declared bankruptcy, and now here I was in an environment surrounded by construction projects with 10-digit price tags.

Hillsboro Ballpark is a city-owned facility built within a pre-existing parks and rec complex, and as such the acreage is vast and the parking ample. When I pulled into the lot, the parking attendant would not take my “I’m a member of the media” claim at face value, and waited until I was able to extract a pass from the detritus on the passenger seat floor.

“Okay, that’s good,” she told me. “I had to check, because you could’ve just been a blogger.”

Thanking her for her diligence, I pulled into my space and took in the view.

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My first impression was that the structure seen in the above photo was Hillsboro Ballpark. But that impression, like most of the primary variety, was erroneous. That structure was a football field, with Hillsboro Ballpark situated just behind it.

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The above two facilities have a symbiotic relationship with one another. The Hops’ primary concession stands — which we shall see in a bit — are located in the football stadium, facing outward toward Hillsboro Ballpark’s third base side concourse.

Getting to the stadium from the parking lot was a bit of a hike, but whimsical signage insured that my spirits remained high throughout the journey.

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 My walking Cramps dissipated after seeing the ballpark’s Lux Exterior.

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Said exterior included this interactive public art project, entitled Barometer.

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Per sculptor Devin Laurence Field, Barometer “takes the overall triangular form of the baseball diamond held aloft by columns and illuminated with color changing, sound activated LED lights….Around the sculpture are various ‘instruments’ people can play, a giant horn, a rattle roller, drum sets and chimes that together form a symphony of sounds. When no one is at the park there is no colored light, when there is noise it lights up — the louder the noise, the brighter the light. The art is a veritable Barometer of excitement for the ballpark.”

Soon after arriving I embarked upon a ballpark tour with Hops general manager K.L. Wombacher, who re-located with the team from Yakima. K.L., he’s a serious guy.

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On the concourse, K.L. and I soon ran into team owners Laura and Mike McMurray. To say that they are enthusiastic about their new locale would be an understatement. Mike told me that after 13 years in Yakima, Hillsboro seemed like “heaven.”

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As mentioned before, Hillsboro marks the return of professional baseball to the Portland area after a two-year hiatus. The below display preserves some of the “final” items in Portland Beavers’ history, thus serving as a bridge to the present.

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K.L. told me that while suites were part of the original stadium design, the club instead opted for open air party decks. The Hops’ status as a short-season team played a major role in that decision.

“The weather here from mid-June through September is just awesome, some of the best in the country,” said K.L. “During this time of year, people don’t want to be enclosed.”

The view from the top, game day employees in day-glo.

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At this juncture game time was imminent, with Dust Devils and Hops alike gathering in anticipation.

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And, hey, look! It’s Barley, the Hops’ mascot. Due to the prohibitions of my gluten-free lifestyle, I had to keep my distance.

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Barley is a hop, and the Hops are called the Hops because of Hillsboro’s proximity to some of Oregon’s most bounteous hop farms. (Worth noting, and a bit ironic, is the fact that the Hops’ former home of Yakima was even more plentiful in the hop department.)

It was “Breast Cancer Awareness Night” at the ballpark, and this led to a cool moment. K.L.’s mom, Bev, is a 13-year breast cancer survivor and earlier that day she had been told that she had been selected for first pitch duties. She got a big round of applause, led by her son, prior to delivering the pitch and it was a heartwarming and truly spontaneous moment.

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Heartwarming then gave way to plain ol’ adorable, as this young fan swept home plate.

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Manager-Umpire relationships are volatile and subject to change at any moment, but at the exact moment in time in which this picture was taken everything was copacetic.

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The Hops’ players were more than ready to take the field, save for the guy on the far left who was more into perfecting his Eminem impersonation.

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“Come to gluten,” says Barley.

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With an ominous cloud looming overhead, Barney and his less-glutenous ballplaying friends stood at attention as we honored our country through the singing of our National Anthem. (The flags were at half mast that day, in honor of a firefighter killed in action in Albany, Oregon.)

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The completion of the “Star-Spangled Banner” means that it’s time to play ball. So, with Class A Short-Season Northwest League action as the backdrop, I took a lap of the facility.

One of the first areas that I encountered was Hot Dog Nation,  a presumably sovereign entity with non-existent border security. At said nation a standard-issue hot dog costs $3.75, and specialties include the Foot-Long, Hoppin’ Jalapeno, Philly Dog, and Chicago Dog.

074The Hops name, when it was first announced, drew acclaim from beer drinkers nationwide. Ale aficionados and IPA artisans alike allowed themselves to imagine Hillsboro Ballpark as some sort of beer drinking mecca, with baseball as the centerpiece of a thriving micro-brew scene. For now, however, the beer selection is modest as just three are on tap.

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Two of these three beers are provided by the local BridgePort brewing company: Hop Czar and Long Ball Ale. That latter brew, a light and citrus-y summer ale, was sold exclusively at Hillsboro Ballpark and, as such, is the official team beer. The gentleman working the “Brew Pen” taps was, not surprisingly, biased toward BridgePort products. I repeatedly heard him explain the merits of both the Hop Czar and Long Ball Ale in detail, and then follow up those descriptions with a tossed-off “Or, of course, you could have the watered-down American lager.” (Also known as Coors Light.)

I’ll have more on Long Ball Ale in Part Two of this post (oh, yes, there is always a Part Two), but this lap around the perimeter of the ballpark wasn’t going to walk itself. Time to keep on movin’ on.

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A cool feature of Hillsboro Ballpark is that, despite limited room to work with in certain areas, the Hops went out of their way to make the concourse of the 360-degree variety.  The right and center field berm area is very narrow, before opening up into a more traditionally vast expanse in left field.

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The view toward the field: 081And the view behind the berm:

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I admired this father and son duo, who were sticking it to the man by watching the game for free from beyond the fence.

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The bullpen denizens don’t pay to watch the game either.

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As mentioned, more traditional bermage can be found in left field.

087 - Copy And looping around to the third base side there was, of course, more food to be found. As mentioned previously, this concession stand is actually located in the adjacent football stadium.

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Mannequin or real person?

At this point I was introduced to Tony Hendryx and Tim Watters. The former, on the left, is regional vice president of Ovations food services. The latter, on the right, is an Ovations operation manager. (Or would that be a “Hoperations Manager”?)

095If there’s one thing I learned this season while on the road, it’s that food and beverage guys are way more enthusiastic about their jobs than the average person is about his or hers. These guys were no exception, and Hendryx, an Oregon native, spoke excitedly about how the Hops’ mid-June through September season matches Oregon’s growing season and, therefore, the team makes sure to use fresh, local ingredients whenever possible. (“If we can keep it out of the freezer, we do,” said Hendryx.”)

At this point in the blog post you have probably become accustomed to me introducing the “designated eater.” (You know, the individual recruited to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). But, in this case, “designated eating” was largely eschewed in favor of highlighting two of the Hops’ gluten-free options.

091 Oh, hey, hi, that’s me with a salmon burger (on a gluten-free bun, natch) and a Cobb salad.

The salmon burger was made of locally caught (never frozen) fish glazed with a brown sugar and garlic powder marinade then grilled and served with fried onions. I wish I had taken a close-up pic of just the salmon, as it was sweet and succulent and one of the best items I had at a ballpark this season. But you get the idea.

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And here’s the Cobb salad, with Hendryx explaining that the chicken was from Carlton,Oregon, the hazelnuts grown in the Willamette Valley, the cranberries grown in local bogs and the blue cheese from Rogue River creamery of Central Point, Oregon.

Not that there is all that much competition, but I am going to declare this the best salad currently served at a Minor League ballpark. If you disagree, then get in touch and I will be happy to give your dissent a public airing.

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I wasn’t totally alone in my culinary consumption, however. Meet Hops marketing intern Erik Knutsen, who was recruited to serve as a designated eater should the need arise for some designated eating. Knutsen was the most unenthused and underused designated eater in Ben’s Biz history; here he is with a Long Ball Ale that he was wary about drinking given that he was on the job.

092 Knutsen was a mite bit more enthusiastic about this Zenner’s-brand hot dog, topped with onions and nacho cheese.

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“It tastes really good,” said Erik in a deadpan monotone. “Party.”

This party was cut short, however, as I had been recruited to participate in a between-inning contest. The beer, it was abandoned.

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Erik and I headed down to the visitor’s dugout area, where I was equipped with a helmet, blindfold, and kneepads. I don’t know the exact name of this game I was going to play, but it bore a strong similarity to that which I made a fool of myself doing in Wisconsin. Basically, an object is placed on the field and I, through the crowd’s “hot” or “cold” exhortations, had to find it.

The sting of Wisconsin-based on-field failure was still fresh in my mind, and I was ready for some Oregon-style redemption.

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Except, no. My shot at redemption was postponed due to unforeseen circumstances.

What unforeseen circumstances, you might ask? Well, here’s my answer to that question:

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All will be revealed in Part Two of this Hillsboro saga, which, sadly, will be 2013’s final “On the Road” post. We’ll always have the memories.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Two Sides to Every Story in Reno

My “On the Road” posts are perhaps best described as impressionistic fever dreams, in which I try to piece the fragmented memories of my ballpark evenings into something resembling an objective reality. In doing so I strive to reach a fertile middle ground in which a small “t” truth can blossom into infallibility, but sometimes the discrepancy between my account of an evening and that of the team in question becomes too great to ignore. This is certainly what has occurred when it comes to my recent visit with the Reno Aces, as I documented a rather lackluster night at the ballyard that ended prematurely due to a rainout.

When the Aces read this post, they were incredulous. “It goes without saying that Ben is the greatest baseball writer of all time, but not even the greats are unimpeachable,” went the presumed front office sentiment. “And, like Loutallica or Chinese Democracy, Ben’s post on this alleged “Reno Rainout” represents greatness at its most deeply flawed.”

The Aces, led by marketing director Brett McGinness, took it upon themselves to compose a thorough corrective to my Reno rainout missive, which I will now reprint in full. In doing so I am not admitting to any errors in my previous account; rather, I am simply acknowledging that truth is a malleable construction, perhaps nothing more than a coping mechanism designed to create some semblance of order within an existence that requires daily navigation through the chaos of infinite conflicting realities.

RENO’S RESPONSE

We’re not sure what your recent column was, about the rainout at Aces Ballpark. Here’s how we remember it (with photographic proof):

It was a perfect August evening at Aces Ballpark. 75 at first pitch, not a drop of rain for miles.

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The Aces and Redbirds took the field right on schedule, and you got the full Aceball experience. You seemed a bit road-weary.

The second-inning trike race against Archie went well. You pulled out to a huge lead, but seemed pretty blasé about the victory.

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Next up: Dancing Grounds Crew. Surely this would shake you out of your stupor.

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Nope.

Guest-starring as Roof-Man, perhaps?

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No dice.

Same deal when you were in the wiener dog race (although you came in third, so it’s understandable why you might have been bummed out).

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That was when we accidentally offered you a Triple Play Sandwich, chock-full of glutens. Cryptically, you told us, “Don’t offer me glutens. You wouldn’t like me on glutens.”

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You took one bite of that sandwich and went a little nuts.

You proposed to some woman on the field. We’re still not sure if you knew who it was, or if you had met her before, or what.

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We tried to tell you that “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” wasn’t a duet, but we couldn’t talk you down from the wall.

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We didn’t really know what to do, so we had to call the cops.

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Long story short, Nevada requires no residency for marriage certificates, so the marriage is binding. You should really head back here when you get a chance, your bride keeps stopping by the ballpark and asking about you, and we’re running out of excuses.

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I’ve got to admit, the above account does explain a lot. Namely, why a woman with a 775 area code who is listed in my phone as “Betrothed” keeps calling me. I keep telling this lady that she’s got the wrong number, and that I remain Minor League Baseball’s most desirable bachelor, but who knows? Perhaps it’s time to own up to my gluten-fueled indiscretions and settle down in Reno.

Or perhaps not. I’ll spend the remainder of the week pondering my options, and in the meantime stay tuned for dispatches from one more “On the Road” locale: Hillsboro, home of the Hops. Hopefully my account will jibe with the team’s, but who really does know?

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Rain Delays and Triple Plays in Reno

I’ve traveled quite a bit over the past four seasons, and in that time I’ve kept meteorological misfortune to a minimum. The only time whilst “On the Road” in which I experienced a rainout was in 2010, when a vicious Chattanooga thunderstorm put a halt to any and all Southern League activities that had been scheduled for that evening at AT&T Field (or, as I like to call it, “Orphan Initialism Field”)

When I arrived at Reno Aces Ballpark on a recent Thursday it was decidedly overcast, hardly the sort of day that sets hearts to fluttering.

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“But, still,” I thought to myself,” “This is Reno. I don’t think that there are ever rainouts here. It’s, like, near a desert or something.”

This was an exact thought-quote.

Upon entering the ballpark (which, as you may be able to infer from the above pictures, is located in downtown proper) I met with Aces marketing director Brett McGinness and we embarked on a tour of the facility. For some reason, the very first picture that I took is of a deserted (for the time being) cornhole bago area.

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“This started as a bocce court, but bocce didn’t fit the Reno aesthetic,” Brett told me. “Bago has been much more popular.”

Also representative of the Reno aesthetic are huge meat smokers in the shape of a train.

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Aces Ballpark is the centerpiece of Reno’s entertainment-centric “Freight District” and the city is a major trucking and transit hub in general, so the train motif makes sense. There are train tracks located directly beyond left field, for goodness sake.

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The scene is different in right field, as there one finds the Truckee River.

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To the right of right field, out in the distance, on the horizon, there are mountains.

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But as for the more immediate surroundings? Take a look:

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Refreshment options abounded, actually.

Outside there were food trucks, or, as nobody calls them: vehicular comestible purveyors.

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Upstairs, this was the scene at “Bugsy’s.

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“Bugsy’s” is so named because “Bugsy” is the nickname of Aces manager Brett Butler. Butler got that name during his playing days, when his snazzy sartorial sense inspired teammate Mike Krukow to remark that he dressed like mobster Bugsy Siegel, and the name stuck.

Keep in mind that I was walking around the ballpark with a guy named Brett [McGinness], who told me that “Growing up Brett Butler was my favorite player, because there were no other Bretts playing baseball. Now when I’m walking around the ballpark Brett [Butler] will see me and say ‘How’s it going, Brett’ and I’m like ‘Wow, dream come true!’ Brett Butler knows my name!”

Such interaction is par for the Brett Butler course, actually, as prior to the season he requests short bios of the Aces front office so that he can competently make small talk with them when the need arises. That’s just the kind of guy Brett Butler is!

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There are plenty of food and drink options at Aces Ballpark — especially if you DON’T want to watch the game. There’s an entire attached entertainment district that is collectively referred to as “The Freight House.”

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Bago can be found up here as well,  beneath the upper torso of a glowering neon baseball player.

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It is rumored, but not confirmed, that this player was modeled after veteran infielder Cody Ransom.

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Meanwhile, game time was almost upon us. In the following Vine, the PA announcer’s exhortation to “Play Ball” occurs about half a second after a jagged bolt of lighting cuts across the sky. Baseball and lightning are, generally speaking, incompatible.

But the game had begun and there was nothing to do but keep on keeping on, despite the less-than-ideal conditions. The evening’s originally scheduled “designated eater” (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark delicacies that my gluten-free diet prohibits) was a local DJ/Aces superfan/Reno man-about-town named Chris Payne.

Payne was recently voted Reno’s “best public figure to fantasize about,” so have at it:

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Unfortunately, Payne’s own recent set of dietary restrictions — he had given up red meat– rendered him unable to adequately perform designated eating duties.  All I could do was admire his tattoos and footwear and move on.

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“I take what I do as a fan to the next level,” said Chris. “I’m always thinking eight steps ahead of everyone else.”

Desperate times call for desperate measures, so Into the designated eating void stepped Brett McGinness himself. And first up for Brett was the $15 Triple Play sandwich, which consists of 18-hour smoked brisket and pork shoulder, BBQ-glazed meatballs, cole slaw, three pieces of Texas toast, pickles, and peperoncinis. After you order it, you are given the following sign so that an Aces food service worker can come out and hand deliver it.

(In the below photo, senior sous chef Brad Radack is holding the sign. We’ll meet Brad in just a bit.)

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What a beauty this thing is!

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Have at it, Brett!

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As Brett methodically consumed the above item with grace and aplomb, the situation on the field went from bad to worse.

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Say what you will about radar, it is incapable of untruths. And, sure enough, about 10 minutes after the first pitch, the skies opened up. It was a veritable deluge, and Brett abandoned the Triple Play sandwich in favor of tarp duty.

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The concourse, in which elbow room had once been so plentiful, quickly became a mob scene.

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Two brave — or would that be insane? — souls stuck it out in the stands.

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The Aces’ tarp work was exemplary, and after the situation was under control Brett returned. (His sandwich, however, did not. I have no idea where that thing went.)

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The Aces had prepared a rather ambitious schedule for me, involving many aspects of the game day experience, but the rains rendered this schedule moot. (At the time the rain hit I was preparing to take part in a trike race, because, as Brett said, “We figured we’d put you on a metal object in a thunderstorm.”)

Okay, fine. Plan B: watched Brett eat more food. What a life. This time we headed up to Duffy’s, a member in good standing of the Freight House conglomerate:

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Brett, still soaking wet, soon had before him Duffy’s version of a reuben: corned beef, french fries and dressing on rye, cooked in a woodstone pizza oven.

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Chef Radack reported that this is a new item, and it has been popular as a late night selection (Duffy’s opens 90 minutes before the game and then stays open until midnight or so). Brett, he enjoyed it.

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It’s not on the menu, unfortunately, but Chef Radack and his crew were kind enough to prepare me some gluten-free pizza. On the left is pepperoni, on the right is the veggie-centric “Farmer’s Market” (onions, zucchini, peppers, pomodoro sauce).

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Radack and crew, awaiting my reaction:

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Thumbs-up, guys! (Seriously, please don’t kill me.)

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It really was good — I’m not sure what type of flour was used, but it resulted in a crisp thin crust and that’s all I ever ask for. (Well, that and fresh ingredients. And impeccable presentation. And affordability. And a complete and total obsequiousness to my every passing whim.)

Meanwhile, outdoors, the rains had subsided. That was the good news. The bad news was that so much rain had fallen in so little time that the field remained sodden and certainly would remain sodden for some time.

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Well, okay, then. In order to pass the time I resumed my new favorite activity: watching Brett McGinness eat. Here’s a Caesar wrap on a spinach tortilla, Brett. Do with it what you will.

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“I’m like the Homer Simpson of food critics,” said Brett, commenting on his perhaps-less-than-discerning taste. “This is awesome, too. I love it!”

Well, then, you may as well keep right on eating. Here’s a Frito Pie Dog, in which a 10-inch hot dog is topped with chili, cheese, and Fritos.

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Previous Homer Simpson-esque proclamations notwithstanding, Brett was starting to get a little burned out.

“This, it tasted like a Frito Pie Dog,” he said. “Whatever you imagine it tastes like, that’s what it tastes like.”

This would prove to be Brett’s first and final tautological culinary observation of the evening, as word soon came over the PA that there would no more Pacific Coast League baseball on this rain-besmirched Reno evening.

My sentiments exactly, videoboard. My sentiments exactly.

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2013 marks the Aces’ fifth season, and this was just their third-ever rainout. What a disappointment for such an anomaly to occur on the lone night that I was in Reno, as there is so much of the Aces experience left to be seen!

Perhaps, through a combination of technological chicanery and good old fashioned elbow grease, I’ll be able to find a way to show you some of these things. Who really does know?

Stay tuned…

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Concluding a Banner Island Day in Stockton

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

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Let’s zoom in for a closer look.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

San Jose catcher Jeff Arnold

San Jose catcher Jeff Arnold

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

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

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

But, anyway, gluten:

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

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

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The turkey burger generated a less enthusiastic response.

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

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

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

And what do you know? He did:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The interior:

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

107

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

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Just keep eating, guys. It is your job.

113

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

119

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

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

121

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

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

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

126But another obligation was imminent. One always is.

127

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

131

133

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

“You’ve got to catch that, bro.”

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

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

bobble

Photo by, yes, George Steckler

Night views:

141

IMG_0620

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

145

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

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

148

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

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

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

photo: Joe Price

photo: Joe Price

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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