Did you know? Each one of my road trip blog posts has an accompanying MiLB.com article. Click HERE to read my piece from Rome, containing information NOT included in this blog post.
Apologies for the most obvious “On the Road” blog headline of all-time, but how could I resist? For on my latest (and therefore greatest) road trip, the stop after Huntsville was indeed Rome. And when in Rome, it’s pretty much mandatory that one makes cliched “When in Rome” observations. But why? How did this saying come to be? Since I’m backlogged on the blog and in a time crunch to write a lot of posts before my next trip (kicking off in Akron on July 18), clearly the best use of my time would be to look up the origins of this saying.
Okay, got it! “When in Rome” is an abbreviated portion of a saying attributed to Aurelius Ambrose, who, per Wikipedia, was “one of the most influential ecclesiastical figures of the 4th century.” Again, per Wikipedia:
Ambrose displayed a kind of liturgical flexibility that kept in mind that liturgy was a tool to serve people in worshiping God, and ought not to become a rigid entity that is invariable from place to place. His advice to Augustine of Hippo on this point was to follow local liturgical custom. “When I am at Rome, I fast on a Saturday; when I am at Milan, I do not. Follow the custom of the church where you are.”
Follow the custom of the church where you are. Those are words to live by, and a philosophy I certainly apply while visiting Minor League stadiums.
When in Rome, Georgia, this is the place to see South Atlantic League baseball action. Welcome to State Mutual Stadium, land of the free (parking, with a media credential) and home of the Braves.
On many of my stadium stops, I know more or less what to expect. I’ve had contacts with the team in question for many years, they know who I am and what I do, and it’s full speed ahead from the moment I step inside. But, in Rome, I didn’t know quite what to expect. They are not a team I’ve had occasion to cover on a regular basis, and while the front office was very welcoming in advance communication it was still a mystery to me regarding what the evening would bring.
Spoiler alert: it brought a lot.
First things first, I got the lay of the land. As you can see, this is a solid but not immediately spectacular Minor League facility. In a nutshell, it’s what you’d expect an 11-year-old Class A stadium to look like: a capacity of 5000, 14 suites, and a good but not great videoboard. The concourse provides ample vantage points down the baselines, but it is not 360 degrees nor is it entirely “open.” (Many of the concession, souvenir, and informational kiosks are located behind home plate, isolated from the field of play.)
I met up with assistant general manager Jim Jones and this group of people. They had won a Facebook essay contest on why they should renew their wedding vows at the stadium, and they were at the ballgame to, yes, renew their vows.
Our motley crew soon proceeded onto the field, as the ceremony would take place just behind home plate.
Well, okay, it was just me who proceeded onto the field. The four couples were driven to the ceremony in a grand golf cart procession.
The following group of photos were taken by Kyle Hess/Rome Braves.
While Mr. Hess took some great photos, he largely missed what was obviously the best part of the ceremony: me serving as the official witness. This is a task that was very important and took the utmost concentration, as I had to stand beside “Elder Kevin” and, well, follow the custom of the church where I was.
You can kind of see me in the above photo. But being the Greatest Minor League Baseball Blogger of All Time has its perks, as I was spotted by someone in the crowd as well.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 6, 2014
As for @gondeee, we’ll meet him later. And if you want more specifics about this stirring ceremony, then read my article on MiLB.com.
But for those intent on contributing to my rapidly approaching obsolescence by prioritizing the photos, then scroll on. Again, these are courtesy of Kyle Hess/Rome Braves.
As the game began on this mercifully rain-free summer evening, I was in the press box. I don’t know why, but I’m sure there was a reason.
The stadium is located within a rather nondescript area of Rome.
In fact, all I saw while en route from the hotel to the stadium were chain stores, chain eateries and billboards exhorting the importance of proper Christian living. But the next day I had the chance to visit downtown Rome proper, and it was a charming and exuberant area that I would encourage anyone to visit (you know, when in Rome).
Beastie Boys reference?
But, anyway, there was a game going on. And me? I’m here to write about the game that was going on.
Nah, just kidding. When I’m on these trips I never have time to watch the game. All I do is run around like the proverbial chicken with its proverbial head proverbially decapitated. Next on the docket was to meet the evening’s designated eater — you know, the individual recruited to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.
Joe Webster, ladies and gentleman. The most enthusiastic designated eater of all time.
Joe is 16 years old, and lives in nearby Dallas, Georgia. He’s an aspiring broadcaster, and currently writes sports articles for his hometown Dallas-New Era newspaper. He was in frequent contact with me prior to my visit, just to make sure he knew he’d be in the right place at the right time. Joe was psyched, in other words, and I appreciated his enthusiasm.
We met at Bubba’s BBQ Barn — where the elite meet to take a seat and get some eats.
Joe and I ordered a BBQ Sundae, fried bologna sandwich and a BBQ plate (you know, when in Rome). None of these items were served to us on Frisbees, though that is apparently the standard operating procedure for certain delicacies.
Here’s Joe and I, with Joe just about to chow down.
Joe began with the BBQ Sundae, a layered vertical concoction. Starting from the bottom: Cornbread, pulled pork, cole slaw, more cornbread.
Excuse this break in regularly scheduled programming, for just as Joe was digging in to the sundae I noticed that the “Renew Your Vows” couples were taking part in a between-inning interview.
I used this occasion to ask Martha and Bill Sims for an interview. They obliged, and some of that conversation is in my linked-to-twice over MiLB.com piece. Okay, three times over.
Joe ably served as a bodyguard during this interview, should any foul balls come in the Sims’ direction. While none came within threatening distance, Joe nonetheless almost chased one down that had landed about 100 feet away. Joe was enthusiastic.
But now, back to Joe and his BBQ Sundae.
Joe’s multi-pronged approach to the BBQ Sundae spoke to his frustration with it. He said that he “wasn’t enthralled” because he “wished it was layered better. It’s a good thing they give you a long spoon, because it’s hard to get down in there.”
More traditional, at least in regard to preparation technique, is the fried bologna sandwich. This is a comparatively rare ballpark food item, though I can remember the Danville Braves and Jackson Generals serving them as well. Any others?
Have at it, Joe.
Joe liked the bologna because it was “different than normal ballpark food.” But I got the sense that he wouldn’t have ordered it on his own. In my experiences, the people who like fried bologna sandwiches are the people that grew up eating fried bologna sandwiches. It’s a comfort food.
At this point a special guest arrived in the form of Twitter’s very own @Gondeee, the individual who had taken the photo of me serving as the wedding witness. @Gondeee was toting a BBQ Sundae and, unlike Joe, he was very much a fan of this concoction.
@Gondeee’s real name is Martin Gandy, and he writes the “Chop County” blog. He told me’s a “tech guy by trade” and that his job involves frequent calls to India.
“Every time I call they’re like ‘Oh, Ghandi” and then I get the best tech support ever,” he said.
While we were talking, Joe was digging into his BBQ plate.
That look of bliss says it all. Joe was a fan.
But I had to depart from Joe, at least for the time being, as I had been invited to ride along in the “Redneck Rummage Sale Trailer.”
“It’s not a bad way to start a Friday,” said on-field host Matt Hayes. “On a trailer surrounded by beautiful women.”
The Redneck Rummage sale is a popular recurring event held in the parking lot of the stadium, and it is what it sounds like. There’s lots of junk for sale, and it’s generally very cheap. The trailer takes a nightly lap around the field between innings, as a way to promote the event.
While my attempts to film this ride with my brand-new GoPro were woefully unsuccessful, I did end up with the following scoreboard footage.
I also ended up with the following photos.
Joe and I had missed out on the shrimp bucket, apparently. And what better place to enjoy a shrimp bucket than by sitting in a motorboat? The Coosa River is back there somewhere, should anyone want to commandeer this boat in order to place it in a more natural environment. Sitting man, as framed by a bronze leg kick. A beach ball had been set loose upon the crowd, and I don’t know why. These kids, meanwhile, were in their own private ballplaying universe. I think there was a Chik-Fil-A ad on the other side of the foul pole. Get it? Fowl pole? Back on the other side of the stadium, a top-level view of the front entranceway. Roxey and Romey are an item. Did you know that? Back on the concourse, I snapped this photo of condiments, fruit, and a chicken. As it so often the case during these sort of circumstances, their job was to dance. Vine time!
Henry the Hot Dog, ladies and gentlemen. Or at least I think his name was Henry. Bill and Martha Sims, that delightful married couple whom I mentioned earlier, came to the game with lots of family in tow. In retrospect this was not the best angle in which to take a group photo, but it’s what I got. Hello, Sims family! Down on the concourse, manning the Fan Services booth, I ran into Kasey Decker. Yes, Kasey Decker of Winter Meeting Job Seeker Journals fame! Her long and winding path through the industry has brought her to Rome.
The game was winding down, so I reconvened with Joe and we got some dessert at “The Sweet Spot. Joe wanted a “Banana Stick Sundae” but they were out of banana and a “stick sundae” didn’t sound as good. He got a swirl with Oreo instead, and ate it while boldly gazing into the future. “It’s good. It’s ice cream,” said Joe.
But Joe was far more excited by the presence of All-Star Game ballots. Apparently, if he voted for B.J. Upton 250 times, he would be eligible to receive a B.J. Upton bobblehead at an upcoming Braves game. Joe was ready to vote 250 times and then some.
“People think I’m insane, but it’s okay,” he said. I hope he carries that attitude into adulthood, because it’s a good attitude to have.
And that, as they say, was that. Goodnight from Rome, Georgia, where I did my best to follow their customs. —- Meanwhile, my next trip is fast approaching. Contact me with suggestions of any kind regarding each of the following ballparks. And if you want to be a Designated Eater at a park where that honor is available, then get in touch. YOU can be the next Joe Webster!
July 18: Akron RubberDucks
Designated Eater: Adam Ray, Joe Meadows
July 19: West Virginia Power
July 20: Columbus Clippers
July 21: Indianapolis Indians
Designated Eater: Tim Mullin
July 22: Louisville Bats
July 23: Lexington Legends
July 24: Dayton Dragons
Designated Eater: George Coleman, Richie Devotie