While 2009 included a couple of incidental dilly-dallies, these “On the Road” blog installments began in earnest in 2010. 2013, then, marks the fourth season of this on-going adventure, in which I visit Minor League stadiums nationwide and deliver the results of said explorations to you, a reader both discerning and loyal and very attractive.
All of this is to say: “Yes, I am on the road again” (quotes utilized because I said this out loud while typing). And this year’s travels began in Bowling Green.
(NOTE: For more crucial Bowling Green “On the Hot Road” content, please read this MiLB.com story. As I have said time and time again, largely to no avail: I am not just a blogger!)
Bowling Green is the home of the Hot Rods, and the Hot Rods play in Bowling Green Ballpark.
Like many Minor League stadiums that have come before, Bowling Green Ballpark is being utilized as the centerpiece of a downtown revitalization project. It opened in 2009 — marking the first time that Bowling Green had had professional baseball since 1942 — and four years later new retail, restaurant and residential buildings are springing up around it.
The resultant landscape is very much a work in progress — the new mixed with the old, 21st century innovation blended with industrial-era decay. A few views from the second level:
A short walk down the street seen below leads to Bowling Green’s downtown square, a truly picturesque and tranquil old-fashioned retail hub that I visited the next day.
I’ll have more on Bowling Green’s downtown area in a future “Return to the Road” post, but here’s a glimpse of its beauty:
But back to the ballpark — more vantage points!
And is that what I think it is? The answer to this question, due to the fact that I know what I’m thinking, is a resounding yes: train tracks! And trains!
Bowling Green may be an automotive town (the Hot Rods are named, in part, due to the presence of a Corvette factory), but the train survives:
Speaking of vantage points, the Hot Rods broadcast booth offers a unique one. The “Stadium Club” bar and restaurant area for season ticket holders is located on the second level behind home plate, meaning that those calling the action have been shunted off to the side. Here’s that view:
Broadcaster Hank Fuerst seemed at peace with this set-up, utilizing everyone’s favorite tautology: “It is what it is.”
Are there other stadiums which position the broadcasters in such a fashion, in favor of giving season ticket holders the best views? The only one I can think of off-hand is Harrisburg, post-renovation. Here’s a look at that, from my trip in 2010:
The Stadium Club and its view:
We’ll return to the Stadium Club in a bit, but for now let’s descend to sea level. The pre-game sights were similar to that which you’ll find at MiLB parks all over the country.
I get lost in your eyes…
Larry Parrish, big league slugger turned manager of the visiting West Michigan Whitecaps, signing a few autographs.
Bowling Green, as you may know, is located fairly close to the natural wonder that is Mammoth Caves. Such topography extends to the city as well, which is a Karst landscape (I learned this term from Fuerst). What this means, in essence, is that stadium construction couldn’t extend far into the ground because of the instability of the earth below. This is why clubhouses and batting cages and storage areas and such are located beyond the outfield.
(This is a very poor explanation, and as my Dad is a geologist I am now expecting him to chime in via the comments section.)
I had been tapped to throw a first pitch, and while waiting for this honor to occur I wandered around the perimeter of the playing field.
Hank Fuerst, looking sad in this non-representative still, doing the pre-game show on the rather impressive videoboard.
Notice that the pre-game show is called “The Tune-Up.” Other team name tie-ins to be found around the stadium include the “Turbo Times” game program and “Body Shop” team store.
Finally — the first pitch, as overseen by promotions manager Jennifer Johnson. I have delivered quite a few first pitches over the years, but this marked the first occasion in which I was asked to introduce myself (usually, the intros are done over the PA in hyperbolic fashion). While I now wish I had taken the opportunity to tell the crowd that Sparks is the most underrated band of all time, I simply said “Ben Hill, from MinorLeagueBaseball.com” in a tone most stentorian.
And, well, let’s just say that it wasn’t one of my better offerings.
But mascot love is unconditional, and despite my mechanical failures Axle and Roscoe were their to buoy my spirits.
Nonetheless, I thought it would be best to lay low for a bit so I proceeded to the right field corner for the national anthem.
Oh say can you see?
And, well, alright! The game was finally underway, and it took me less than 900 words to get to this point in the narrative. Still out in right field, I recorded a Vine video in order to provide a little game day ambiance.
I am new to Vine, and Vine is new to the world, so there are kinks to be worked out on all sides. However — it is a fun and easy to use app that I plan on incorporating into my content from now on, and I hope that MLBlogs will soon allow its users to embed these looping six second videos on the blog. In the meantime I will link to them when applicable, and if you follow me on Twitter — @BensBiz — then you’ll have immediate real-time access.
It was a Wednesday night ballgame, the first of the homestand, and the crowd was about par for the course for a mid-week ballgame played during the school year. To use a car analogy, since car talk so prevalent here in Bowling Green: the team’s return home represents turning the ignition, and then each game of the homestand represents shifting into a higher gear, and, therefore, this game was first gear and…okay, that’s terrible. Just look at some pictures. That’s all anyone cares about, right?
So here you go. Look at these pictures, while I attempt to rally from yet another bout of writerly self-pity.
From the bold marketing minds that brought you “College Football Playoffs.”
The ice cream immediately melted in Axle’s presence:
I must have passed this dude five or six times on the concourse. He was always carrying the compact disc player, always engrossed in the music. I wonder what he was listening to.
Off of the concourse and on to the field, here’s Hot Rods manager Jared Sandberg coaching third base:
Sandberg, former Tampa Bay Devil Ray and nephew of Ryne, is, so far as I know, the only manager to ever tweet about one of my ballpark visits.
Why is that tweet not embedding? Why is it a good idea for me to waste 30 minutes on trying to correct this? Point is, Sandberg’s tweet expressed mock frustration because he “missed out on free food and tix” that the Hot Rods were offering to my designated eater that evening.
Yes! This was the debut of the designated eater, as from here on in I will be recruiting someone at all of my ballpark stops to eat the gluten-free cuisine that I cannot. As I wrote on MiLB.com:
The Hot Rods held a contest on their Facebook page to find Wednesday’s designated eater and selected season-ticket holders Randy and Donna Brown. The Browns have been married for 34 years — he’s a maintenance worker at a local factory and she an office manager at Christian Family Radio — and their relationship dates back to their late teenage years. At that time, Donna worked at Wendy’s and Randy at a steak restaurant.
“It was the best of both worlds, and we haven’t slowed down since!” said Donna of their employment situations at the time.
Clearly, these were the right people for the job. Sitting in the Stadium Club bar and lounge area, located on the second level behind home plate, Randy and Donna were soon presented with BBQ Pork Nachos and, more significantly, the Grand Slam Burger.
Randy, with nachos.
Donna, more demure, with the Grand Slam Burger:
Clearly, this grand slam burger deserves another look:
More from my MiLB.com piece:
[T]he Grand Slam Burger consists of “two grilled hamburgers served with cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion and spicy BBQ sauce between two glazed doughnuts.”
“It’s delicious — a combination of flavors that is really unique,” said Donna. “It’s a sweet burger, if that makes sense, and strikes a really good balance. I would recommend it!”
The happy couple, post-meal, photo-bombed by Axle and Roscoe:
My thanks to the Browns, who were both very good-natured and engaging and got this whole ridiculous “designated eater” concept off to a great start.
At this point, the night was upon us.
After a brief stop in the restroom — always wash your hands! — I headed over to the radio booth for an inning with number two broadcaster Chris Kleinhans-Schulz. My puns were quite plentiful, my insight quite lacking.
Hey, look, you’ve all come to see pictures and instead I’ve written over 1500 words, all of them gratuitous. Time to shut it down, similar to how the Hot Rods were shut down by the visiting Whitecaps.
Wednesday night being what it is, I didn’t catch Bowling Green Ballpark in its full splendor. But this is a great front office operating in a great stadium in what seems to be a great town. I certainly enjoyed my time here and, apropos of nothing, on the way out noticed this really awesome looking advertisement.