Results tagged ‘ Why I Love ’

Guest Post: Why I Love the Charleston RiverDogs

It’s time for another installment of “Why I Love,” in which Minor League fans explain what it is they love about their favorite team and why. Today’s guest writer is Paul Worley, a long-time supporter of the “abstraction otherwise known as the Charleston baseball club.” 

To see other “Why I Love” guest posts, click HERE. And if YOU would like to write a “Why I Love” guest post, email me at benjamin.hill@mlb.com

Why I Love the Charleston RiverDogs, by Paul Worley

(All photos by Paul Worley, unless otherwise noted)

Charleston sunset, as seen from the RiverDogs' home of Joseph P. Reilly Ballpark (Ben's Biz file photo)

Charleston sunset, as seen from the RiverDogs’ home of Joseph P. Reilly, Jr. Ballpark (Ben’s Biz file photo)

Despite what the tourist brochures may tell you, Charleston, South Carolina, is largely a screen for the projection of history. Little could be said to still happen there. The city has stepped outside of the flow of time, as intentionally anachronistic horse-and-carriages echo down streets that are hardly large enough to accommodate the late-model sports cars owned by the men and women who fly back twice a year to take in a bit of salt air from meticulously reproduced antebellum verandas.

As someone who left Charleston to go to school in the mid-’90s, I return home to find that others have moved in, knocked out the walls and rearranged the furniture. Everywhere, that is, with the exception of the ballpark. Bill Murray (yes, THAT Bill Murray, a.k.a. the RiverDogs’ Director of Fun) and the rest of the Goldklang Group brought changes to the team, but as much as possible they have really left things the same. That’s why I love the RiverDogs.

The narrator of Louis D. Rubin Jr.’s 1979 short story about Charleston baseball in the 1930s spends his time in-between innings observing a little train over the outfield fence at College Park, one of the oldest Minor League parks in the country and the RiverDogs’ original home. He tries to catch it coming or going, but never can. He looks up and it’s there, or looks up and it’s gone. The train is either at the station or it isn’t. The train never moves or changes, but it does. It’s an apt metaphor for the team.

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In my lifetime, the abstraction otherwise known as the Charleston baseball club has had several names: Patriots, Pirates, Royals, Rainbows and RiverDogs. Before that, the club was known as the Rebels, the Palmettos and the Quakers. Pro baseball in the city was founded in 1886 by two teams: a member of the Southern League of Colored Baseballists called the Fultons; and a Southern Association team known as the Seagulls. Unlike most teams then, the genealogy of the Riverdogs doesn’t lead us back to a single man or single team, but to the segregated legacy of the Jim Crow South that, through baseball, results in a kind of unity. White and black, they’re all founding fathers of Charleston baseball.

The RiverDogs play at Joe Riley Park, shortened by most fans to “The Joe.” Built in 1997, it’s among the new wave of parks whose architects, taking a cue from Baltimore’s Camden Yards, wove the park into the city. From the backside you can look out over the marsh leading onto the Ashley River with Citadel faculty housing tucked beneath a few oak trees on the shore off to the right. The outfield fence is lined with trees hiding the river just beyond with a tall building or two finishing out a modest skyline.

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While the RiverDogs go to great lengths to capture the attention of the casual fan, the team has etched South Carolina’s baseball history into the park itself. Camden’s own Larry Doby has his number 14 retired out on the centerfield wall, the forlorn hero of Pickens County, Shoeless Joe Jackson, has a small beach named for him just beyond the right field foul line and there is a “Scouts Hall of Fame” located along the main concourse. Every year, during “Larry Doby Heritage Weekend,” the team hosts members of the Cannon Street All-Stars, an all-African-American Little League team from Charleston who, in 1955, were denied the opportunity to play in the Little League World Series because they’d won all of their games in the segregated South by forfeit.

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Before they were a Yankees affiliate, the RiverDogs were one of the original franchises associated with my favorite team, the Tampa Bay Rays, which means I cheer for certain “Yankees as Riverdogs” while still hoping that New York’s American League baseballers finish somewhere north of 100 losses. After all, while they come and go and by definition are trying to get somewhere else, it’s the players who make the Charleston experience meaningful.

Hall of Famers, all-time greats and MVPs have played with the Charleston club, and their names are easy enough to find. I’m a big fan of former RiverDogs catcher Francisco Arcia, who, during a “kids day at the (water)park” a few summers ago, walked around the bullpen area with a Super Soaker hosing down everything within 100 feet of him.

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Dante Bichette, Jr. once impressed me with his knowledge of vintage minor league uniforms (I was sporting a Durham Bulls jersey from the mid-1990s signed by former RiverDog and Bull Elliot Johnson). I particularly enjoy talking smack to players in Spanish, and I’ll forever remember the pitcher (name withheld) who turned around to me in the middle of a game and asked me bluntly, “Y tú, ¿quién eres?” My scorecard from that game notes that this conversation lasted from two outs in the top of the fourth until the seventh inning stretch. My favorite Charleston ballplayer of all-time is the late Tom Saffell. His best memory of playing in Charleston occurred during the 1946 season, while running from first base to second on a routine ground ball. The shortstop, having made the pivot and overanxious to get the runner going to first, drilled Saffell, who was trying to break up the double play in the usual way, square in the head. This happened twice in the same game. There should be a plaque somewhere in the park to honor Saffell and the bungled routines that make life memorable.

Players present constantly intersect with players past, and you get the impression that if you could read them correctly, 30-year-old scorecards and discarded tidbits from the news would reveal tomorrow’s starting lineup. Walt “No Neck” Williams managed the Rainbows, so it’s unsurprising that Mason Williams, his nephew, would one day turn up in the RiverDogs outfield. Rob Refsynder had a few choice words for University of South Carolina fans after his Arizona team defeated USC in the 2012 College World Series, so naturally Charleston was his first stop after the Yankees drafted him. If L.J. Mazzilli is starting for the visiting Sand Gnats, expect Lee Mazzilli to materialize in the park. When Dante Bichette, Jr. was with the team, you could look up during the inevitable late August thunderstorm rain delays and find Dante Bichette, Sr. seated two rows up from you, eating a hot dog, drinking a Diet Coke and waiting out the rain with the rest of us who never played an inning beyond Little League.

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During the South Atlantic League All-Star Game festivities that were held in Charleston in 2012, I had a chance to speak with the Director of Fun himself. He told me that slip-and-sliding on a tarped field during a rain delay is the best thing in the world, and that if I ever got the chance I should go for it. In honor of Rubin, Saffell, and Arcia, and Cannon Street, and the Fultons and the Seagulls, the next time I’m in Charleston I’ll take him up on it, if only to tell the cops who arrest me, “With God as my witness, Bill Murray told me it was all good.” Because it’s better than good, and it’ll always be home. That’s why I love the Charleston RiverDogs.

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Thanks to Paul for taking the time to write this and, again: If YOU would like to submit a post for this series, then send an email to the address below. In the meantime, here’s my 2011 “On the Road” post detailing my Charleston RiverDogs experience.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Guest Post: Why I Love the Syracuse Chiefs

It’s time for another installment of “Why I Love,” in which Minor League fans explains what it is they love about their favorite team, and why. Today’s guest writer is Jared Wicks, a Syracuse resident who, over the past decade, has become an ardent supporter of his hometown Chiefs.  

To see other “Why I Love” guest posts, click HERE. And if YOU would like to write a “Why I Love” guest post, email me at benjamin.hill@mlb.com

Why I Love the Syracuse Chiefs, by Jared Wicks

(All photo courtesy of Jared Wicks, unless otherwise noted)

NBT Bank Stadium, home of the Syracuse Chiefs (Ben's Biz file photo)

NBT Bank Stadium, home of the Syracuse Chiefs (Ben’s Biz file photo)

Growing up in Syracuse, New York, I was taught that there were two teams to root for: Syracuse University basketball and Syracuse University football. If you insisted on watching baseball, then there were New York Yankees games on TV. I was also taught that my family’s income level would only permit attending a few sporting events each season, and always in the upper, upper deck.

In my youth I was familiar with the Chiefs. But, like many people in the area, I never thought much of them. That changed during the 2004 season, when I was 17. I received some free tickets from my sister, so my friends and I decided to head to the ballpark. Why not? The list of things to do in the area on a minimum wage budget were few and far between. That night, after the seventh inning, my friends and I sneaked down to the lower level seats and watched a man named Russ Adams play for Syracuse. He made an impression on us, largely because of the PA announcer’s introduction of “Ruuuussss Ad-dams.” Then, just a few days later, my friends and I were at a local sports bar watching the Toronto Blue Jays play against the New York Yankees. Up to plate came a man whom I had recently been just a few feet away from. Yes, Mr. Ruuuuussss Ad-dams.

Ever since that day I’ve been a die-hard fan. The Chiefs have, without seeming to even try, made me feel important while providing top-notch entertainment. I am certainly not rich, but when I’m at NBT Bank Stadium it’s hard not to feel that way. For a small price, you can sit just a few feet away from the baseball stars of yesterday, today and tomorrow. The Chiefs became my little secret, but it wasn’t long before all of my friends took to the idea of going to games. In the central New York area there aren’t too many entertainment options on a summer night, and it doesn’t get much better than being at the ballpark watching players competing within the highest level of the Minors. From my vantage point in section 105, row 1, I’ve gotten a chance to watch Jayson Werth, Vernon Wells, John Smoltz, Josh Beckett, Melky Cabrera, Bryce Harper and many, many more. I can hear, smell and see everything, and maybe even get to hear the players say “Thank you” after I scream out “Good luck.”

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Stephen Strasburg pitching for the Chiefs in 2010

In all the time I’ve been going to games, one of the most important aspects has been getting a chance to meet and become friends with some great people. Unlike bigger sports franchises, Minor League Baseball provides an intimate atmosphere. I have gotten to know many season-ticket holders and fans on a first-name basis — or should I say on a nickname basis? One of my favorites is former season-ticket holder Michael Kendrick. (Or, as we liked to call him, “K Dad.”) Kendrick came to every game from 2005-13, and during this time he was responsible for hanging the strikeout “Ks” for the Chiefs pitchers. He also was known for his heckling of players, which he peppered with unique and obscure facts. He might mention a player’s interests outside of baseball, or call former Yankee prospect Shelly Duncan by his real name (it’s David).

And then there’s Dave, who sits in section 207, row 1 at every single game (and many road games, too). While quiet in nature, Dave boasts a vast knowledge of not just Syracuse Chiefs baseball but also politics, social issues and other areas of sports history. And of course I have to mention Lloyd “The Suspect” Broadnax. We call Broadnax “the suspect” because of the catchphrase he uses while heckling the opposing team: “You’re not a prospect, you’re a suspect!”  Broadnax doesn’t stop his heckling for even one minute during the game. The writer of this blog, Ben Hill, learned that this past season. Hill was trying to interview him, and during the interview Broadnax would only answer his questions in-between pitches.

(That article can be found HERE).

Jared Wicks, center, dressed as an umpire. Lloyd "The Suspect" Broadnax is in the white Chiefs jersey.

Jared Wicks, center, standing next to Lloyd “The Suspect” Broadnax (in white)

As if I didn’t already have enough reasons to love the Chiefs, management at the ball yard changed hands prior to the 2014 season. Jason Smorol was named general manager, and everything that I always said I would love to do if I owned a Minor League team came to life during his first season. Smorol brought an unmatched energy to the ballpark, introducing great games, promotions, deals and themes that made you not want to miss a single game.

One night, during a rain delay, the Chiefs set up a free miniature golf course on the concourse. I mean, how cool is that?

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One promotion that I really became a part of was Tattoo Night. This promo offered me a chance at two great things: One, to get a free Syracuse Chiefs’ logo tattoo, courtesy of the Chiefs and sponsor Carmelo’s Ink City. Two, that very tattoo now grants me free admission for life to all Chiefs games.

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Regardless of the tattoo, the Chiefs are well worth the five dollar cost of admission. They have provided me with years of not just entertainment, but memories. Summer nights with friends, enjoying dollar hot dogs, talking about work and family, watching fireworks, laughing at monkeys dressed as cowboys riding dogs and even seeing things like a perfect game by Columbus Clipper Justin Germano and a four-homer game by the Chiefs’ Michael Aubrey. And last season I — and the whole city — was provided with a real chance to get excited. The Chiefs made it to the playoffs for the first time since 1998 and won their first division title since 1989.

Being a fan of the Chiefs has also given me an opportunity to visit other great cities, simply by following the team. Day trips to Rochester, Scranton and even Cooperstown to see them play have allowed me to explore those cities.

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Shopping, zoos and landmarks lead to great day trips, which still cost under $100 for two people (including game tickets, gas and food). I even got a chance, in 2011, to watch the Chiefs play the Pawtucket Red Sox at Fenway Park in Boston. The seats we had would have cost $150 face value at a Red Sox game, but they only cost me $22 and that was for a doubleheader.

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The cuisine at any ballpark is great, superior to any other sports option in Syracuse. The Chiefs sell Hoffman’s Hot Dogs, a central New York staple, a dog so good that Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim and Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach became investors. The Chiefs sell these hot dogs at the same price that it would cost you to make one at home and, on Thursdays, for even less than that. My love of all things Canada is satisfied with poutine, and there are also pulled pork sandwiches, salt potatoes (a New York specialty) and even a burger with a hot dog on top of it.

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Poutine, Bens Biz file photo

I have recently changed my goals in life, from working as a correction officer to returning to school. I now want to work in sports, preferably Minor League Baseball, and it’s all thanks to the Chiefs. I love this team because they love me right back. Unlike at Yankee Stadium or Lambeau Field, there is something to be said for watching a sports team whose staff knows your name, whose ushers know your seat and whose players smile when they hear you say something funny.

While other sports fans in New York may struggle to obtain custom license plates of their favorite teams — they’re all taken — GoChiefs was available for me as a way to show my pride. Summer is meant to be spent outdoors, and in central NY there is no cheaper or better option than the Syracuse Chiefs.

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Thanks to Jared for taking the time to write this and, again: If YOU would like to submit a post for this series, then send an email to the address below. In the meantime, here’s my 2014 “On the Road” post detailing my Syracuse Chiefs experience. Jared even makes a cameo: 

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benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Guest Post: Why I Love the Durham Bulls

It’s time for another “Why I Love” guest post, in which a Minor League fan explains what it is they love about their favorite team, and why. Today’s guest writer is Ken Childs, a proud resident of Durham, North Carolina and, therefore, a proud fan of the Durham Bulls. 

To see other “Why I Love” guest posts, click HERE. And If YOU would like to write a “Why I Love” post, email me at benjamin.hill@mlb.com.

Why I Love the Durham Bulls, by Ken Childs 

(All photos courtesy of Ken Childs)

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Opening Day, 2014

I’ve been a resident of the beautiful city of Durham, North Carolina my entire adult life.  The city has transformed over the last 14 years from what was almost an afterthought of a place into a bustling center for local restaurants, shopping and the arts.  And in the middle of all that growth has been (and always will be) the Durham Bulls.

You’ve probably heard the name: There was a little indie movie made about the Bulls in the 1980s that did okay.  The players who have come through here have shaped the Major League Baseball landscape for quite some time. The Bulls have been a consistent model of how teams should be run, and that has been shown in their continual trips to the Governors’ Cup playoffs. The list of “what’s not to like” about the Bulls, their home of Durham Bulls Athletic Park (DBAP) and their organization as a whole wouldn’t be long enough to fill out an index card, let alone this space, so we’ll go with “what there is to like” and ramble on for a while all about it!

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The view atop the “Blue Monster” in left field

Durham Bulls Athletic Park, which opened in 1995, is considered “older” now, at least when compared to the Minor League Baseball building boom that’s come about over the last decade or so. Nonetheless, you likely won’t find a nicer stadium anywhere. On any given summer night, on the corner of Blackwell and Jackie Robinson, you’ll find families, friends, couples and desperately single guys alike settled in the beautiful 10,000 seat stadium to take in not only great baseball, but great entertainment in general. And the building itself is what those new stadiums aim to be. You want your Minor League park to be a smaller version of a Major League stadium, downtown, near lots of restaurants and things to do both before and after the game?  The DBAP has long been that, before most new stadiums were even a glimmer in an architect’s eye.

The DBAP has its own little quirks that make it like no other: There’s the bull (of Hit Bull, Win Steak fame), Jackie’s Landing (the nicest bar in Durham), the Blue Monster, the grass in the outfield entire families sit on to enjoy a game on a weekend evening and no other shortage of things that make it unique.

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For a facility of its caliber, and a team of its caliber, the Durham Bulls are just about as budget-friendly as their mascot, Wool E Bull, is family-friendly (the “E” is short for “Education”…seriously).

Peek-A-Bull

Peek-A-Bull

The Bulls offer dollar hot dog nights, the best fireworks show anywhere (your town’s 4th of July show pales in comparison, I promise) and lots of great coupons and deals to get in on the cheap. And, even if you don’t, the most expensive ticket in the place is $15.  Admit it: in the past, you’ve spent a lot more on a lot less.

Section 114, Row A

Section 114, Row A

So that’s what there is to love, in general, about the Durham Bulls. Now, why do I love them? For starters, they’re my hometown team. At heart I’m a Chicago White Sox fan, and their Triple-A team is down the road in a lesser city in North Carolina playing in the same International League division. But when they come to town, you can only root for one team, and that’s going to be the hometown one (even if the Bulls are an affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays).

At heart I’m a “people person” kind of guy, and the Bulls’ entire staff are the same way. From Jatovi (the Bulls on-field announcer and master of ceremonies) to general manager Mike Birling and everyone in between, there’s not a single person who won’t go out of their way to help a fan make his or her experience amazing. I’m not a needy guy, but anytime I’ve ever had any issue with anything, there was someone there in a Bulls shirt to lend a hand.

I’m also a sucker for food and cheeky events, and the Bulls have me covered that department as well. There’s Food Truck Rodeo night, where all of Durham’s best food trucks (and we have many) line up in right field. There’s craft beer night, ’80s night, ’90s night and the always popular Bark in the Park night.  The concessions have everything from traditional ballpark food to taco stands to what is truly some of the best BBQ anywhere. So, whatever you’re in the mood for, DBAP most likely offers it. The on-field action is always great, but sometimes it’s that little extra fun in-between innings that makes the night special.

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Food Truck Rodeo

Bark in the Park

Ken Childs (right) and his dog, Deacon, at Bark in the Park Night

And, of course, there’s the baseball itself. The roster is generally made up of outstanding players who are also outstanding people. Hardly ever do you see a player skip a chance to sign an autograph, grab a picture with a fan or flip an extra ball to a kid in the first few rows. Great players like David Price, Wil Myers, Chris Archer, Craig Albernaz, Desmond Jennings and so many more have spent substantial time here in Durham, and this has led to the knowledge that, at any given ballgame, you’re seeing the future of baseball right before your eyes.

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Wil Myers thrills a young fan

A moment with Craig Albernaz

A moment with Craig Albernaz

The Bulls are always in the hunt for the playoffs, and since moving to Durham in 2001 I’ve seen them win the International League championship four times. Baseball is always a little bit more fun when your team is winning, and that is rarely a problem here in Bull City.

The Governors' Cup, awarded to the IL's championship team

The Governors’ Cup, awarded to the IL’s championship team

In short, there are a lot of baseball teams out there, but none are as great as the Durham Bulls. Candlesticks always make a nice gift, but Bulls tickets might be just a little bit nicer.

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The iconic Lucky Strike tower, towering over DBAP

Thanks to Ken for taking the time to write this and, again: If YOU would like to submit a post for this series, then send an email to the address below. In the meantime, here’s my 2011 “On the Road” post detailing my Durham Bulls experience.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Guest Post: Why I Love the Charlotte Knights

It’s time for another “Why I Love” guest post, in which a Minor League fan explains what it is they love about their favorite team and why. Today’s guest writer is LaMichael Mitchell, a die-hard fan of Charlotte sports in general and the Charlotte Knights in particular.

To see other “Why I Love” guest posts, click HERE. And If YOU would like to write a “Why I Love” post, email me at benjamin.hill@mlb.com.

Why I Love the Charlotte Knights, by LaMichael Mitchell

(Photos courtesy LaMichael Mitchell, unless otherwise indicated)

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When you think of sports in Charlotte, North Carolina, what comes to mind? For many of us, it’s the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, who are coming off of a playoff appearance. There are also the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets, who are once again using the Hornets name after a 12-year absence, as well as college basketball. But for me, a die-hard Charlotte sports fan, it’s all about spending summer evenings catching a baseball game inside the warm confines of BB&T Ballpark in uptown Charlotte, cheering on my beloved Charlotte Knights.

Back when I was just 10 years old, in 1994, my parents used to take me to Knights games when they played down in Fort Mill, South Carolina. The team’s home in those days was Knights Stadium, and it was there that I learned about the one thing that I love to do when coming to a game: keeping score. That is something that I still do to this very day.

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Knights Stadium, the team’s home from 1990 through 2013 (Ben’s Biz file photo, circa 2014)

Like many Knights fans, I spent several seasons hoping and wondering: Would the Knights finally come back to a ballpark located within Charlotte city limits? We have a rich and storied baseball heritage here, as Knights alumni include Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Cal Ripken, Jr., Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez. That dream became a reality in 2014, when we finally saw our team return to its rightful home in Charlotte.

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I was there for the Opening Night of BB&T Ballpark, in April of last year, and the experience was truly electrifying. Even though the Knights lost in extra innings to the Norfolk Tides, I still had a fun time witnessing a new chapter in Charlotte baseball history. Whenever I attend a game at BB&T Ballpark, I feel welcomed by a warm and friendly staff that is passionate about making the experience at the ballpark fun. This is certainly true of media relations director Tommy “The V” Viola, and also includes the man that made it all happen for the Knights to return home to Charlotte, COO Dan Rajkowski. And I can’t forget Homer the Dragon, as he makes the experience of attending a Charlotte Knights game at BB&T Ballpark fun for kids of all ages.

LaMichael and Homer

LaMichael and Homer

Along with everything else that I mentioned, I can’t forget about the views. The Charlotte skyline is visible from just about anywhere you sit in the ballpark.

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Ben’s Biz file photo

I usually choose the seats in left field, where the Charlotte Panthers’ home of Bank of America Stadium can be seen in the distance. The view from right field isn’t too bad, either.

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Baseball in Charlotte has truly been a way of life for over 100 years. With the recent success of BB&T Ballpark in its record-setting inaugural season, it is no wonder why I love coming to a Knights game. The experience is out of this world. If you’re from in and around the Charlotte area, or if you’re planning to make a visit here during the summer, I would like you to check out a Charlotte Knights game at BB&T Ballpark. Once you attend a game, then you will see for yourself that it’s a great way to enjoy a warm summer night here in Charlotte.

Thanks to LaMichael for taking the time to write this and, again: if YOU would like to submit a post for this series, then send an email to the address below. In the meantime, here’s my “On the Road” post detailing my Charlotte Knights experience during the 2014 season.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Guest Post: Why I Love the Columbus Clippers

After a seven-month hiatus, I am pleased to announce the return of the”Why I Love” series of blog posts. The premise is simple: Each post is written by a Minor League Baseball fan, in which they explain just what it is that they love about their favorite team and why. Today’s guest writer is  Sarah Lukowski, an Ohio State University graduate student. The Buckeyes won the College Football National Championship last night and today is a day of celebration at OSU and throughout the state of Ohio. But, soon enough, it will be time for sports fans in the area and nationwide to turn their attention to baseball. In this post, Lukowski makes the case for her beloved Columbus Clippers.   

To see other “Why I Love” guest posts, click HERE. And If YOU would like to write a “Why I Love” post, email me at benjamin.hill@mlb.com.

Why I Love the Columbus Clippers, by Sarah Lukowski

It’s a beautiful evening, one of those summer evenings that seem to last forever. And if you are lucky enough to find yourself in Columbus, Ohio, on such an evening, there’s no better way than to spend it than at Huntington Park. Or, really, any other kind of evening…or afternoon, or morning. You get the point. That’s almost certainly where you’ll find me if the Clippers are in town.

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Huntington Park, in all its majesty, before the crowd arrives

Huntington Park, a gorgeous stadium, recently celebrated its fifth anniversary. What’s not to love about a beautiful diamond? If you sit on the outfield grass on those long summer evenings, you’ll inevitably see a beautiful orange-purple sky as the sun sets behind the first base side of the ballpark. Nights like these are absolute perfection, reminding each and every person in the crowd why they fell in love with the game of baseball. Children roll down the slight incline of the lawn and hope that a home run heads their way.

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The lawn: perfect for relaxing, rolling, home runs, and, in this case, watching Trevor Bauer do his pregame long toss.

Or, if you are like me and want to get closer to the action, you can situate yourself a few yards away home plate. It’s a cliche, but there truly isn’t a bad seat.

The view I enjoy each and every day of the season.

The view I enjoy each and every day of the season.

I have always loved watching sports because of the people and the Columbus Clippers game experience is no different. The staff is always friendly, the fans in the crowd are the type of people you want to hang out with and the guys on the field are the type of players it is easy to cheer for.

And, while you never want guys to get hurt or get sent back down from the Cleveland Indians, it is a part of the game. In recent years I have seen both Michael Bourn…

6and Jason Kipnis.

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When you think “Minor League Baseball season ticket holder” I am probably not who you would imagine. I am a 24-year-old grad student who, while growing up in rural Michigan, fell in love with the game of baseball by cheering on the Battle Cats/Battle Creek Yankees/Battle Creek Rays/Southwest Michigan Rays (the name and affiliation changed frequently). In Columbus, from time to time, curious passersby will ask with some incredulity, “So Sarah, you come here every game?!” To which I always reply with a smile, “Yes, I just really like watching baseball.” This is true, but the full truth would be that the Clippers organization creates an atmosphere that I have loved from the time I arrived in Columbus.

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When I moved to Columbus I knew that I wanted to be a season ticket holder and am grateful that the long-time season ticket holders — shout out to first few rows of Section 9! — have welcomed me with open arms. They tell me stories of the Clippers’ past as a Yankees affiliate, and we chat about Cleveland Indians players past, present and future. Such closeness has allowed generations to grow side-by-side over their mutual love of America’s pastime, a closeness that is truly at the heart of Minor League Baseball.

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One person in particular that makes the Columbus Clippers unique is team historian Joe Santry. I can always count on Joe to tell me an amazing story of Columbus’ baseball past whenever I ask. Joe is one of the true gems of Minor League Baseball and if you haven’t met him yet, I highly recommend making a point to find him at the game. He can be hard to track down, as he is typically documenting the various events that make each game special, but if you do run into him, just ask him for a story. He never disappoints.

Joe Santry, left, and Clippers director of social media Josh Samuels.

Bens Biz file photo: Joe Santry, left, and Clippers director of social media Josh Samuels.

Beyond the people, if great eats are your thing, the Clippers do not skimp on the budget-friendly ballpark meals. I buy hot dogs for 10 cents on Mondays, dollar rib bones on Tuesdays, wings for 50 cents on Wednesday, and celebrate the beginning of the weekend each Friday with music, delicious pulled pork sandwiches, and discounted drinks. I could easily gain 10 pounds each summer feasting on all these ballpark treats. And, as if you needed an added bonus, visiting the various parts of the ballpark where they are sold give you all-new vantage points from which to take in the game.

Bens Biz file photo: Ribs at the Clippers game

Bens Biz file photo: Ribs and a view at the Clippers game

Finally, I would be remiss to not mention the entertainment. You can always count on 2013 MiLB Mascot Mania champion Lou Seal to make his way through the crowd. Children shyly approach to give him a high five while their parents look on, camera in hand. The in-game entertainment brings the always crowd-pleasing hot dog race, among tons of other antics and promotions that often define the MiLB experience.

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Ketchup and Mustard race down the first base line. Relish is missing in action.

There is something new happening all the time. But my favorite, from childhood and until now, will always be the Zooperstars! Admittedly, the Zooperstars! are not special to the Clippers organization; they travel to various ballparks throughout the summer. The games are already worth it, but they make it even better. Look them up and if they are at a park near you, YOU MUST GO! Seriously, missing a Zooperstars! game is criminal.

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If you’re a resident of the Columbus area and haven’t gotten to a game, I’m not sure what you could be waiting for — get yourself to the game! If you’re from out of town, it is well worth the trip. To the Clippers organization: Thank you for making each game memorable. I can’t wait to see what the next several years have in store.

Thanks to Sarah  for taking the time to write this and, again: if YOU would like to submit a post for this series, then send an email to the address below. In the meantime, here’s my “On the Road” post detailing my Columbus Clippers experience during the 2014 season

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Guest Post: Why I Love the Fresno Grizzlies

Greetings. I have returned from my first road trip of the 2014 season; articles from the trip have been running on MiLB.com throughout the past week and into next, and the corresponding blog posts will soon follow. (I promise!) But first, another edition of “Why I Love,” in which Minor League fans explain just what it is that they love about their favorite team. Today’s guest writer is Milana Lock, a verifiable Fresno Grizzlies super-fan who I wrote about during one of my 2013 road trips. If YOU would like to write a “Why I Love”  post, email me benjamin.hill@mlb.com

But, for now, the floor is ceded to Milana:

Love of The Game, Crack of the Bat, Thump in the Glove

Stories from the world of Major League Baseball are filled with huge contracts, catchy nicknames, big endorsements, fan worship, scandals and gourmet menus; these are the topics that go along with the the sport at its highest level.  But there’s a side to baseball that should be fully appreciated, as it’s one of the most important:  the Road to “The Show”.

I’m a devout fan of those who play for the Fresno Grizzlies (Triple-A team for the San Francisco Giants), and there are several things that draw me to every home game:  the amazing work ethic, a determination to excel, and a level of play that, hopefully, gets the players noticed by the parent club’s front office. With intense focus, these guys work out and play just as hard as their Major League counterparts; maybe with more heart, and definitely for much less money (a maximum of about $2,200 a month).  In fact, it seems they play harder because they have more to prove.

The Minor Leagues are a place where fans have the closest access to players, some who are returning for another season and others who are entering a higher level for the first time.  While our hope is for them to get a call-up, there’s a mixed yet very real joy in seeing favorite players again and renewing friendships that are based on unconditional support and encouragement.  The fields are smaller, the stands are closer to the bullpen. The autograph line, filled with kids and adults alike, is the place where players take the time to sign autographs and pose for selfies.

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Brandon Belt

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Brandon Crawford

Sitting only 75 feet from the field, we feel the vibe of 6-4-3-2 plays for a third out and actually see the pride on the players’ faces. I’ve been wowed by outfielders who refine their throw from medium-depth center field to get an out at home plate, and have launched myself out of my seat to unapologetically celebrate a 410-foot grand slam.

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It’s this kind of up-close and personal experience that makes it important to be more supportive, to share in this love of the game and the players that develop within it. If they can play everyday in 105-degree heat, then I can go to every Grizzlies home game and cheer. If they get a percentage from the sale of their Spring Training batting jerseys, then I’ll buy one or two from the parent club’s team store. If I’m given a chance to meet them, then they’ll get a birthday shout-out on the big board. And if there’s heckling going on, I’ll be even louder in shouting words of encouragement. These may be little things but they seem to mean a lot; it’s a way for a fan to be a part of the game.

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The phrase “you get what you put into it, and more” applies to the Minor League ballpark experience as well. If you look closely, you’ll watch top prospects refine their skills and be able to tell friends at the Major League park who are the up and comers, who’s dangerous with an opposite field bat, who delivers high heat, who’s got crazy-fast legs, who’s a thief on the basepaths, who brings that secret weapon, who’s got a cannon arm. In a way, I guess you could say that Minor League fans are unofficial scouts. In the spirit of Yogi Berra, “you get to see the future today”.

And where else but in these leagues can you strike a pose with prized baubles, and even wear them for a minute? These are lifetime memories!

2010 World Series Ring

2010 World Series Ring

2012 World Series Ring

2012 World Series Ring

You can find new things, almost weekly, at the Grizzlies’ team store while also supporting the community.  New T-shirts and caps designed with this year’s logos or slogans, black and orange nail polish (team colors), foam fingers printed with the mascot’s paw, the Major League club’s caps and hoodies, and blingy summer tops are all on display. Also, it’s the place to buy something that contributes to the organization’s community programs, as a portion of the proceeds helps to fund school scholarships, special needs baseball games and equipment, and a reading program. What a great combination! We can improve the community while supporting our team in style.

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For the girl who has everything: Fresno Grizzlies nail polish and nail files.

For the girl who has everything: Fresno Grizzlies nail polish and nail files.

Yes, I love watching the game, eating another hot dog, sitting for too long, buying another T-shirt, and cheering loudly at every accomplishment.  Yes, getting to the Majors is the ultimate dream come true for a ball player.  But the pursuit of that dream and the celebration of the heart of hopeful champions is what brings me back to the same seat, every season, every night. Play Ball!

Thanks, Milana. And, again, if you’d like to write a “Why I Love” blog post, about YOUR favorite team, then get in touch. I am very accessible and a pleasure to communicate with. 

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Guest Post: Why I Love the Lake County Captains

It’s time for another edition of “Why I Love”, in which Minor League fans explain just what it is they love about their favorite  Minor League team. Today’s guest author is 21-year-old Lake County Captains fan Tyler Stotsky, a native of nearby Mentor, Ohio. Stotsky, a junior at Lake Erie College who is pursuing a sports management degree, has served as the team’s bat boy for the past four seasons.

If you would like to write a “Why I Love” guest post about YOUR favorite team, send me an email benjamin.hill@mlb.com

Classic Park, home of the Lake County Captains (photo: Ben's Biz)

Classic Park, home of the Lake County Captains (photo: Ben’s Biz)

In the Northeast Ohio area, there are two options for Minor League Baseball: the Akron RubberDucks and the Lake County Captains. The Captains are situated in Eastlake, Ohio, playing their first season in 2003. I have been a fan since 2008, for many different reasons: the staff, atmosphere, promotions and the chance to see the Cleveland Indians of the future.

I love my hometown Lake County Captains.

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Photo: Ben’s Biz

I love the Lake County Captains because of the always friendly and hospitable staff that you see throughout the ballpark on a daily basis. The crowd is led by on-field host and ticket sales representative Andrew Grover, who who walks through the crowd during every game to ensure that every fan is having a great time. Grover is one of the many smiling faces you see when you walk in the ballpark, and he is the last one you see when you leave. Each and every one of the staff members is incredibly helpful and happy to be there.

I love the Lake County Captains because of the family-friendly atmosphere that the team promotes at Classic Park. one of the best atmospheres that I have experienced in my life. I can bring my girlfriend, brother, sister, parents and other friends to Classic Park, and we can all enjoy a game together. Last year, I took my girlfriend Kelli to her first Captains game. She had so much fun at her first game, she wanted to come back for more throughout the year! I always have an amazing time at the Captains games no matter who I bring.

The Captains are the low-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, which means that fans could possibly be watching the future of the Tribe as they begin their careers with the Indians organization. 44 Captains alumni have reached the major leagues, and some of the notable names that I have seen and met include Vinnie Pestano, Danny Salazar, Preston Guilmet, Cody Allen and Jose Ramirez. Being able to see players develop at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario is a big reason why I love the Lake County Captains.

The Captains have a great slate of promotions every year, developing ideas that will make the fans come back. One of my favorite promotions from the last few years is “A Captains Story,” where everyone’s favorite mascot — Skipper — is featured in a bobblehead portraying scenes from the film A Christmas Story.

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Other outstanding Captains’ promo nights include Cleveland Sport History Night, Star Wars Night and an assortment of ethnic heritage nights. I have had the opportunity to meet many celebrities at the ballpark, such as former WWE wrestlers Sgt. Slaughter & Ted DiBiase, Peter Ostrum (the original Charlie Bucket from Willy Wonka) and Cleveland Cavaliers play-by-play man Fred McLeod. The Captains try to get the fans involved with the promotions and it works!

Tyler with Sgt. Slaughter

Tyler with Sgt. Slaughter

These are just some of the the reasons why I love the Lake County Captains, and the fact that I get to be the batboy makes it so much sweeter!

All Aboard!

Thanks to Tyler for taking the time to write this and, again: if YOU would like to submit a post for this series, then send an email the address below. In the meantime, here’s my “On the Road” Lake County Captains post from 2011.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Guest Post: Why I Love the Memphis Redbirds

Last month I featured a guest post on this blog by Gillian Richard, who wrote about her love for the soon-to-be-departing Huntsville Stars. In the wake of that post I took to Twitter, asking Minor League Baseball fans to write about why they love their hometown team. Wes Milligan was the first to respond to this challenge; what follows is his ode to the Memphis Redbirds. If you would like to write a “Why I Love…” guest post about YOUR favorite team, then shoot me an email benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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AutoZone Park in Memphis (All photos in this post courtesy Wes Milligan, unless otherwise noted)

You don’t get a second chance to throw out a first pitch at a Memphis Redbirds game.

There I was, just a few feet from the mound, a bundle of nerves as I prepared for my moment on the hill. To make matters worse, a few days earlier Carly Rae Jepsen had thrown out what could be the worst first pitch in Major League Baseball history, and her horrific bounce was playing in a loop in my head. I was so terrified that I hadn’t even told most of my FedEx co-workers about my impending moment in the spotlight. If I bounced it, I would never hear the end of it. Ever.

Right before I stepped on the mound, I asked a staff member which player would be catching the baseball. She said, “Oh, it’s Michael Wacha.” I went pale. True, Wacha wasn’t yet the NLCS MVP, but every die-hard St. Louis Cardinals fan knew the young prospect. He wasn’t going to be in Memphis long, and I didn’t want his last memory of AutoZone Park to be a slider in the dirt, 30 feet from home plate. And did I mention America’s Homecoming Queen was throwing another first pitch after me? So I have a future MLB star, a beauty queen and thousands of fans watching me. Nah, no pressure. No pressure at all.

When I moved to the Memphis area more than two years ago, I was more excited about seeing the Redbirds play than starting my new job at FedEx. As a lifelong Cardinals fan and former resident of St. Louis, being able to watch the young baseball talent move up the farm system firsthand was a  great tourism attraction and on my baseball bucket list. It quickly became so much more than that.

My best memories of Memphis now involve the Redbirds: snagging a foul ball, tasting Rendezvous barbecue nachos for the first time, and taking in a weekday matinee game on an extended lunch break. The willingness of the team to support the Alzheimer’s Association, my charity of choice, has meant a lot to me. And who doesn’t like fireworks night?

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BBQ Nachos (photo Ben’s Biz)

There was also the time I beat my buddies during the fifth inning tricycle race. I never did tell them one of the Memphis RedHots gave me the inside track on how to win, but does that really matter? The Memphis Redbirds give us all a chance to wind down after a long day at work, catch up with friends – and make new ones – while watching quality baseball in the city we call home.

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Minor League Baseball teams, like the Memphis Redbirds, are community treasures. The team gives us affordable access to the game we love so much, supports the community and local charities, and introduces children to America’s pastime in a close and intimate environment. For example, the Memphis Redbirds have supported the RBI Program (Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities) for a very long time, raising thousands of dollars to grow the next generation of players and fans. That’s how I got to throw out a first pitch. Fans who donate to the program at a certain level can fulfill that baseball dream. Just don’t bounce it.

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Well, if Bob Uecker was there that night, he would have called my pitch “just a biiiiit outside.” But I didn’t bounce it. Wacha autographed the baseball, I rejoined my friends in the stands and we all enjoyed yet another Memphis Redbirds game at AutoZone Park, my favorite place to watch baseball.

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To the Memphis Redbirds: thank you for the memories and for the great times that I know are just around the corner. I’ll see you Opening Day — now pass those nachos!

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Thanks to Wes for taking the time to write this and, again: if YOU would like to submit a post for this series, then email the address below. In the meantime, here’s my “On the Road” Memphis Redbirds blog post from 2012

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Guest Post: Saying Goodbye to the Huntsville Stars

Earlier this month I wrote a post asking for suggestions regarding my 2014 road trip itineraries. Responses flowed in (well, perhaps trickled in) via both email and Twitter, but an email I received from one Gillian Richard stood out above the rest. Richard is a passionate fan of and advocate for the Huntsville Stars and their home of Joe Davis Stadium, and as I read her email it became apparent to me that hers is a perspective worth sharing. While this may have been addressed to me specifically, it can — and should! — be read as a message to all Minor League Baseball fans: Get thee to Huntsville in 2014!

Enjoy, and after reading get thee to MiLB.com and read this blog post’s companion piece, my interview with Stars general manager Buck Rogers.

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photo: Gillian Richard

Hey Ben,

I just wanted to add my thoughts about your 2014 road trip itinerary, on behalf of the Huntsville Stars. I’ve been a Stars Fan for a long time (since birth, actually. I’m from Huntsville), and I’m really sad to see the team go at the end of the year. However, since it is the last year for the team, I think they are very deserving of a spot on your itinerary.

While the team doesn’t have the best reputation within the Minors, it holds a special place in my heart. Being in the South, baseball usually comes second to college football, but it was never that way for me, and that’s largely because of the Huntsville Stars. I grew up going to games, and I worked at “The Joe” for two summers that went by way too fast. It was at Joe Davis Stadium that I fell in love with the game, and during my second season there that I realized all I ever want to do in life is wake up and work at a ballpark. I poured my heart and soul into that summer, and I was paid back tenfold because of the people who worked there and, of course, because of the game.

Joe Davis Stadium has a lot more to offer than it’s given credit for. Being the oldest stadium in the league has its perks, one of which is the great wildlife you can find inside the park! Gary the Groundhog was the subject of many conversations, and I think it’s safe to say he’s the unofficial mascot of the Stars. (He even has his own Twitter handle.) One of my cats was a stray I found running around after a game, so I took him home and named him Joe Davis. It just seemed like the right thing to do. There are countless other things that make the stadium unique, and I’m sure you could find several long-time season ticket holders who can share even better stories than what I’ve got. I can think of several people who feel the same way I do about this place, as a matter of fact.

Photo: Ben's Biz

Photo: Ben’s Biz

So maybe the attendance numbers aren’t as good as they could be. Maybe I spent my 20th birthday spray painting a tarp to cover a hole in the batter’s eye because the stadium is outdated. But despite those things, I can’t think of a staff or a stadium more deserving of recognition. Isn’t Minor League Baseball supposed to be about the historic instead of these brand new, high-tech stadiums anyways? About spending an afternoon in the cheap seats, appreciating the simple things in life? Focusing more on the talent and the crazy promotions than on the stadium amenities? That’s what I love about the game, anyways. And that’s what I’ve gotten out of the countless nights I’ve spent at The Joe throughout my life.

If nothing else I’ve said makes you at least consider coming to Huntsville to help me say goodbye to my team, we have a sweet used record store that’s trip-worthy! I would be more than happy to show you all Huntsville has to offer, which is more than you might think.

I don’t know if you’ll be able to make time for it, but I would appreciate you considering it. Baseball is one of those things that gets in your blood and stays forever, especially for those of us who have chosen to make careers out of loving a game. The Huntsville Stars are definitely in my blood, and even though all my merchandise will become vintage come September, I’ll never forget what the team meant to me and what a difference it made in my life.

I think I wrote this letter partially to pitch the idea of you coming for a visit, but mostly it was for me to be able to express how I was feeling about the team leaving to someone who might understand. Thanks for reading, and thanks for writing this blog. You do a great job with it, and I appreciate every post.

Gillian Richard

While I have visited Huntsville in the past, Gillian’s email really got me thinking about how a “final” visit would be appropriate. While I am not ready to announce my road trip itineraries yet (i’s need to be dotted, t’s need to be crossed, blah blah blah), I have put together a trip that does include Huntsville on the schedule. I’ll be there in early June, God willing, chomping at the bit to visit that used record store.

But, more importantly, I hope that Gillian has inspired YOU to perhaps visit the Stars in their final season. You might get to meet Gary the Groundhog, and, who knows? You might get to go on the field after a rain out and watch the general manager use a bullwhip to pull a sword out of a guy’s mouth. That’s what happened when I stopped by in 2009.

 

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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