My previous “On the Road” blog post, focusing on the Kannapolis Intimidators, appeared on July 17. In the ensuing three and a half weeks I visited seven more ballparks and wrote six “On the Road” MiLB.com articles, four editions of “Promo Preview,” the July edition of Crooked Numbers and Crooked Nuggets, two travel journal blog posts, and a three-part series detailing the planning of a Major League promotion. My next road trip begins on August 22, and much planning remains to be done regarding that 10-ballpark jaunt.
But, before I leave, I will be writing a series of blog posts devoted to the seven ballparks I visited from July 18-24. You are expecting this from me, and what you expect I deliver.
We begin this latest (and therefore greatest) “On the Road” blog series at Akron’s Canal Park, home of the recently re-branded RubberDucks. I arrived at the ballpark at game time on July 18, after an arduous and oft-delayed 10-hour drive from New York City, and one of the first things I saw was a man on stilts.
The last time I was in Akron, I did not see any men on stilts.
As you may recall, I visited Canal Park in 2011. I enjoyed that visit quite a bit — I spent an inning in a dunk tank, and got pied atop the dugout — but that was a very different era. The team was still called the “Aeros” then, and overseen by owners (Mike and Greg Agganis) who were rarely spotted at the ballpark. Attendance had declined precipitously (barely over half of what it what it had been a decade before), and Canal Park was beginning to show its age.
2014, however, marks the second season under the leadership of new owner Ken Babby. The team has been re-branded, the ballpark has received numerous upgrades, and there is an energy at the ballpark that was palpably lacking in 2011.
The above two paragraphs grossly oversimplify a complex chain of events, but, hey, I’m just a blogger. Grossly oversimplifying complex chains of events is what I’m here to do.
Anyhow, I hope that the guy on stilts had already gotten his standing room only ticket. July 18’s game was sold out.
In my official Ben’s Biz capacity, I had never arrived to the ballpark after the game had started. I was feeling kind of stressed out and didn’t really know where to begin, but, fortunately, this turned out to be a night in which things came to me. Almost immediately, one of the evening’s designated eaters (you know, the individual recruited to eat the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet prohibits) emerged on the concourse and introduced himself.
Hello, Joe Meadows.
Joe lives in Cleveland, “right across the road” from the Indians’ home of Progressive Field. Nonetheless, he is more likely to attend RubberDucks games simply because he likes the Minor Leagues better. He works for the Progressive Insurance company, and was previously employed by the Cleveland Browns.
Soon afterwards, Designated Eater #2 emerged. This is Adam Ray, who I did not get a chance to photo until we were in this indoor location.
Adam lives in Kent, Ohio, and is an employee of that city. His interest in the team during the Aeros era was minimal, but Adam is on board with the RubberDucks. In particular, he’s a fan of seeing games from the right field Tiki Terrace. (More on that later).
You’ll notice that, in the above photo, Adam is wearing a RubberDucks t-shirt. Such apparel can be found in abundance in the team store.
Joe and Adam and I visited the store, along with RubberDucks assistant general manager Scott Riley, as a prelude to the designated eating that would soon commence. I’m just noticing now that the dude in the above photo, standing to the right of Adam, is wearing duck feet.
Of course, not everyone is on board with the “RubberDucks” moniker. But what can you do? This may as well be the official motto of Minor League Baseball.
I acquired this shirt for my friend’s three-year-old son. Webster is the “Poochiest” mascot in all of Minor League Baseball, which makes me a fan.
Meanwhile, on the videoboard, RubberDucks promotions manager Christina Shisler was introducing one of that night’s promotions to the crowd: a “World’s Largest Game of Duck Duck Goose” record attempt. I’m going to assume that that guy on her left is her personal secret service agent.
In the above photo, below the scoreboard, a much smaller Shisler can be seen standing in the first row of right field seats. To her left is the fan who then began the game of Duck Duck Goose, with a simple, solemn declaration of “Duck.” The game was scheduled to last for the next several innings, slowly winding around the entire seating bowl and ending in the seats located down the left field line.
Duck…duck…duck…duck…duck…and so on, and so forth.
With the world record attempt underway, Riley took me and my designated eaters on a little tour of the upstairs area. This past offseason, a local artist by the name of Mike Ayers was hired to paint Akron baseball-themed murals at several locations within the ballpark. He did a great job with it.
This painting can be seen at the staircase landing between the first and second levels. (Note that I did not say “betwixt” in the previous sentence. Real people, who use the English language in real life, never use that word.)
At the top of the stairs, one encounters Ayers’ homage to the “Aeros” era (1997-2013). More like the Eros era, as there is a lot to love about this:
This picture doesn’t really convey just how big the press box is. It’s beyond gargantuan, and only one adjective lies beyond gargantuan: Brobdingnagian.
The team installed a new scoreboard prior to the 2013 campaign. That, too, is Brobdingnagian. It is operated by these shadowy figures…
Shortly thereafter, this materialized. Hey, thanks! I’ll wear it with pride.
New swag in hand, we were then ushered into a first floor conference room. Food and beverage manager Brian Manning was waiting for us amid an array of, yes, food and beverage. Allow him to explain, because he does it better than I could and I ain’t ’bout to transcribe.
Adam began with the Johnny Manziel Dog, while Joe had the TeriyAKRON pineapple Bowl.
Adam and Joe!
Unfortunately, my notes regarding Joe and Adam’s opinion of these items are largely indecipherable.
“Fine line between spicy and hot didn’t eat sine,” is what it says next to Adam’s name. “Good like the pineapple adds mix of goodness” is what it says next to Joe’s. The bottom line is that both guys liked both items, but both chose the Manziel Dog as the superior option.
I was off of my note-taking game, but the show must go on. Next up was the brand-new “Return of the King” burger, which was created in honor of my return to Canal Park (or at least that’s what I’ll keep telling myself).
Maybe Brian Manning has a better explanation:
Adam said that this burger made him “nervous,” but that it turned out to be good. Joe praised the Boursin cheese, saying that it blended well with the other flavors of the burger. No one really laughed when I said that the flavor of this burger, like LeBron, should ” lack Heat.”
There was also a sampling of this beer shake, with Adam comparing its texture to that of a root beer float.
Joe then went ahead and spilled a Daisy Duck soda float all over his shorts, changing his name to Molly Ringwald immediately thereafter.
Stained shorts or not, the designated eating experience garnered rave reviews.
“It was fantastic,” said Adam. “I got to go out of my comfort zone and I’m glad I did because there was some really good stuff that I don’t think I would have tried before. But I’ll definitely get it again.”
“At the end of the day, I’m refreshingly full and ready for baseball.” added Joe.
Thanks, guys. Your work here is done.
But I had miles to go before I sleep. Riley and I took a little jaunt down the third base side of the stadium, where some 1800 seats had been removed in favor of the “Fowl Territory” picnic patio.
Note the giant team banner plastered on to the side of the building on the right. This building used to be the prestigious Mayflower Hotel, where a veritable who’s who of early to mid-20th century celebrities once stayed. (Including — you guessed it — Frank Stallone.)
In this photo, a giant turkey is walking off of the field. He had just lost a race against Coffee and Donut.
Walking from Fowl Territory back toward home plate, we encountered Caitlyn the intern (her last name is not “the intern.” I just don’t know what her last name is). She is wearing an orange shirt.
Caitlyn had the unenviable task of going from section to section, explaining that the World’s Largest Game of Duck Duck Goose was in progress and that now it was their turn to play. It was difficult for her to be heard over the near-constant din of the sound system, but she was indomitable in her quest to convey this information in a succint and cheerful manner. Being an intern is hard work, and no one even bothers to learn your last name.
I wasn’t yet able to participate in the game, however, for it was my job to be the goose. Being a diva at heart, I demanded assistance in getting into the goose costume.
I’ll refrain from posting more pictures of the goose dressing process, as I don’t want to destroy the illusions of children who are still under the impression that that was an actual goose on the field.
Webster and the Goose didn’t come to the game. The game came to them.
History made, or at least attempted to be made, I morphed back into blogger form and encountered this top secret situation.
That’s the take from the evening’s 50-50 raffle, with $789 going to the winner and — you guessed it — $789 going toward charity. I then followed the money with general manager Jim Pfander, dropping off the winning $789 at guest services and then making a pit stop at the world’s largest press box so that he could pick up the cash to be used for a post-game “Dash for Cash” promotion. (More on that later.)
See, it really is the world’s largest press box.
And speaking of money….In this undisclosed ballpark location, the RubberDucks have an RBG-300 “Intelligent Cash Recycler.”
Pfander was very enthusiastic about this addition to the front office, which was acquired at the suggestion of team bookkeeper Leslie Wenzlawsh. Each evening the money collected at the ballpark is deposited into this machine, and the money is immediately credited to the team’s bank account. Then, the next morning, a Brinks truck collects the money and takes it to the bank. Do other teams do this? If not, Pfander predicted that, after seeing this blog post, they’d strongly consider it.
Meanwhile, I was strongly considering the purchase of a RubberDucks wine glass.
Back among the hoi polloi, the aromas of Eddie’s Cheesesteaks was alluring.
But at this late juncture of the evening, fans had dessert on their minds. At the Sock Hop, fans can obtain “Duck Floats” and then spill them all over their shorts. Ruggles ice cream is served here. Ohioans love Ruggles, I was told.
And, look — the team store has a personalized t-shirt “to-go” window.
Here’s the right field Tiki Terrace, frequented by Adam Ray of designated eating fame (on the left). The Tiki Terrace is a new addition to Canal Park.
The bar is plastered with the baseball cards of former Akron players. Obviously, this picture was taken a long time ago.
“It takes you a year to really figure out what you have, and then you can price accordingly,” said Pfander.
Accordingly, these seats will cost more in 2015.
The seats themselves swivel 360 degrees. That might not be apparent from this photo, but, trust me, they do. I would never lie to you.
Beyond the Tiki Terrace sits “The Game Bar and Grill,” which also has an entrance on the outside of the stadium and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner on a year-round basis.
And above “The Game” sits the Duck Club, “Akron’s newest private event space.” This is the view of these establishments from outside of the stadium.
Mike Ayers, artist:
The Game Bar and Grill’s kitchen is located on the second level, alongside the Duck Club.
The food is sent down to the lower level via a dumbwaiter…
A brief stop in Pfander’s office yielded this photo, which includes all of the giveaways from this season’s “Rock n’ Bobblehead” series.
But the night was not over yet.
Now, it was time to head back onto the field for the Cash Dash post-game promo. $1000 in singles was dumped upon the field, as well as one $50 bill. Then, 30 fans ran to the outfield in order to retrieve as much of it as they could.
It was nice out there.
This transitioned into a “Dave Matthews Band” fireworks display. (Personally, I’m not a fan. I would have preferred a Dave Matthews Banned fireworks display, in which his music wasn’t allowed.)
The best thing about the Powder Cam was that it didn’t really work all that well. Fans would appear on the screen and clap their hands, and then a “poof” of powder would emerge. However, there was often a delay of several seconds between the fans clapping and the powder graphic appearing, leading to awkward moments of expectation.
Whatever snafu that had been delaying the fireworks was soon straightened out, and pyrotechnics lit up the night sky. This photo is awful.
But it wasn’t time to go home because it’s never time to go home. Hey, kids, run the bases! I mean sure, why not? (But not just any kids could run the bases, these were group outing raffle winners.)
And, that, finally, is all that she wrote from Akron. Or all that he wrote, I guess. He being me. At the end of the day, I was absolutely exhausted. It’s hard work being a goose.
Meanwhile, my next trip begins on August 22. Here’s the itinerary (an asterisk means that a designated eater is still needed). If you’re one of the teams on the itinerary, feel free to get in touch. I am having trouble finding the time to coordinate all of the details, but the show will go on.
August 22 — Batavia Muckdogs*
August 23 — Rochester Red Wings*
August 24 — Jamestown Jammers*
August 25 — Erie SeaWolves*
August 26 — Buffalo Bisons
August 27 — Syracuse Chiefs
August 28 — Auburn Doubledays*
August 29 — Tri-City ValleyCats
August 30 — Hudson Valley Renegades*
August 31 — Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders
The goal is to survive.