When I first posted the itinerary for this particular ballpark road trip, July 19 was listed as “TBA.” This was because I did not have a clear idea which ballpark I should visit, as most of the options were places that had already been graced with my ineffable presence. Several teams, or at least the fans of several teams, ended up making pitches as to why I should visit (Mahoning Valley, Toledo and Lake County among them). But the organization that won out was the West Virginia Power, Class A affiliate of your (or at least someone’s) Pittsburgh Pirates. After all, the Power are West Virginia’s only full-season Minor League Baseball team! Further investigation was needed.
The Power play in Charleston, but since there is another South Atlantic League team bearing the Charleston name (the RiverDogs of South Carolina) the Power went ahead and claimed the whole state. (Informally, Charleston, West Virginia, is referred to as “Charlie West.”) The Power compete at Appalachian Power Park, which is located in a rather desolate-feeling stretch of downtown amid modestly-sized high rise office buildings, labor union headquarters and dilapidated factory buildings. My hotel was within walking distance of the stadium, and what follows are a few pictures I took during the walk.
In the biz, we call this “setting the scene.”
This overpass leads to interstates 64, 77 and 79, which combine to form mega-interstate 220. (This is what I choose to believe, at least.) Walking underneath the overpass, one finds the stadium.
Ah, yes, here we are:
Upon entering Appalachian Power Park, I took 10 minutes or so and did my requisite lap around the concourse.
Again, more scene setting.
Lap completed, I was escorted onto the field in order to throw out a ceremonial first pitch. Joining me was the evening’s special guest, a man even more special than me: wrestling superstar Mick Foley (aka Mankind aka Dudelove aka Cactus Jack).
Pleased to make your acquaintance, Mick. (I’m the guy on the left.)
I took the mound and fired something resembling a strike.
The guy who delivered the second first pitch threw a scorching fastball right over the plate, and Mick Foley then hammed it up by recruiting that guy to throw out his first pitch for him. Which, for those keeping score at homes, means that the guy who threw out the second first pitch threw out the third first pitch as well. My first pitch was first.
Update: Commenter Mark Henderson adds the following info:
The guy who threw out the second and third pitches is Scott Robinson, a former batboy for the Charleston Wheelers. Scott has became somewhat of an inspirational local hero, due to his battle with a heart disease that resulted in him receiving a donor heart, going through the transplant just a year ago.
I am now realizing that I talked to Scott later in the evening. He is the guy that took the awesome Toastman pic that appears later in the post.
Mick then joined the managers and umpires for a pre-game conference, presumably regarding whether metal folding chairs would be permitted in any on-field brawls that may occur.
I don’t have any video of Mick Foley from this evening, but he now has a severe limp and moves like a man 30 years his senior (he is 49). It’s painful to watch, but that’s what happens when you sacrifice your body for your passion. I’ve never been much of a wrestling fan, but I have a genuine respect for Mick Foley as he is a smart, engaging individual who forged a unique career path.
While these pre-game shenanigans were taking place, fans were already queuing up for a chance to meet Mick.
There was a significantly shorter line for the pepperoni rolls, a coal miner favorite and staple of West Virginia cuisine. You’ll also note that a 25-ounce beer could be had for just $3. Power assistant general manager Jeremy Taylor told me that the team sold out of the 25-ounce beers on Redneck Night, a stereotype-reveling theme night that has become a highlight of the team’s promotional schedule.
With the game underway, I turned my attention to Rod Blackstone a.k.a. the Toastman. He is one of the most passionate, divisive and memorable fans one could ever hope to meet at a Minor League Baseball game, and I wrote a feature article about him HERE. Please read it, as I don’t want to repeat myself repeat myself.
Okay, I’ll repeat myself just just a little. From my MiLB.com story::
Rod Blackstone is the “Toastman,” a West Virginia Power ballpark icon who can be found sitting in a front-row aisle seat in section 107 during each and every game. From this homeplate vantage point, he leads the section in cheers, displays homemade signs made in honor of each position player and, most memorably, throws pieces of toast to the crowd after every visiting batter strikes out.
The toast isn’t pre-made, either. Blackstone brings several loaves of bread to the game and toasts them on-site using a toaster set up on a small metal patio table. The electrical outlet he uses was installed by the team, specifically to accommodate his nightly toast-making needs.
After spending an inning with the Toastman, I spent an inning in the broadcast booth with Power broadcaster Adam Marco. It was a pleasure talking to one of the finest blogging broadcasters in Minor League Baseball.
From the dim press box environs, I soon transitioned…
My plan was to post the Power’s videoboard footage of this “battle,” but apparently there were technical difficulties. This is really too bad, as this was one of the most embarrassing/memorable moments of the season for me.
Before the game it had been decided that I would sing “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” a choice I was fine with because I assumed that I’d only be singing the chorus. However, when it was played over the PA system to begin the contest, the song began during the first verse. After an awkward pause followed by some herky-jerky gesticulating, I began improvising lines such as “Please play the chorus, this is the verse. I only know the chorus, what are the words?”
My efforts resulted in a round of boos, as the crowd clearly had no love for the most underrated entity in all of sports media. Mick Foley then got on the mic and crooned Hulk Hogan’s theme song “Real American.”
So, yeah, I got to play the heel in a karaoke battle against Mick Foley. That’s definitely going on the resume.
But there was no time to wallow in misery. I save that for the hotel room. Next up on the docket was meeting the evening’s designated eater (you know, the individual recruited to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits).
Hello, Mr. Mike Taylor.
Mike, a former Power bat boy, works in the produce department of a Charleston-area grocery store. He said that, despite his slight frame, he had no problem eating large amounts of food. Well, okay then. Here’s a pepperoni roll. It’s basically pepperoni baked inside of a roll. That’s why they call it a pepperoni roll. I expect to soon see it on a menu in at a nouveau American Brooklyn bistro at a cost of $16, featuring nigella seed Ethiopian sourdough and artisan soppressata imported from an old world butcher operating in San Francisco’s North Bay neighborhood.
“Pepperoni rolls are what West Virginia is known for,” he told me. “You can’t go into a convenience store without seeing them. Once we got them out here they sold like hot cakes.” (Note: hot cakes are not sold at the ballpark.)
Last season the pepperoni rolls were provided by local restaurateur Rocco Muriale. This year, they are being provided by a local pizzeria. Either way, Mike Taylor was psyched to be eating one.
“I’ve never had a pepperoni roll here before, but already I can tell that this will be the best pepperoni roll I’ve ever eaten,” he said. “The bread is buttery and real soft. I could probably eat two of these.”
That wouldn’t be a good idea, as Mike also had to contend with the Gunner Nachos, named after the Power’s nacho-loving on-field emcee. They are served in a full-size helmet, and topped with chicken tinga, pulled pork, beef brisket, cheese, salsa, jalapenos and sour cream.
Thus far, no fatalities have been recorded as a result of eating this item. Have at it, Mike.
So, to recap:
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) July 20, 2014
“These were two of the best things I’ve ever eaten here, and I’ve been coming here a long time,” said Mike. “I’m a skinny guy, but I can eat a lot.”
Hey, what do you know? While all of this was happening, there was a game going on.
During the next inning break, I had the honor of running across the field while waving the team flag. Mascot Chuck (as in, short for Charles, as in Charleston) was with me, with a gaggle of children close behind.
Throughout all of this, fans were patiently waiting in line so that they could meet Mick Foley.
See that guy in the above photo, on the far right? That guy was an absolute dead ringer for Mick. This photo, stolen from Adam Marco’s aforementioned must-read blog, shows just how much of a dead ringer he was.
The Rowdy Alley are a loose-knit group. Some nights there are only four or five people sitting here, while on some nights (like Thirsty Thursday) there are a couple dozen. I plan on writing about the Rowdies in an upcoming MiLB.com feature. They love their beer, have a pet monkey, and all their ducks are in a row.
This guy was wearing a towel, fashioned into a cape. He seemed vaguely annoyed by my presence, like “Can’t a guy just wear a cape and keep score and occasionally blow into an old trumpet (not pictured) in peace?”
This guy, meanwhile, was ready to face the elements.
Immediately after I took this photo, the members of the Rowdy Alley broke into song. I wish I had it on video. Wishing I had things on video seems to have been a theme of the evening.
I also spoke with legendary souvenir salesman Wheeler Bob. He, too, will be included in the upcoming MiLB.com feature that I previously alluded to.
Meanwhile, the smell of smoke had begun to permeate the ballpark.
Culprit: the Toastman.
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Just another night at the ballpark in West Virginia.
I did get some video of the Toastman in action.
The game ended shortly after the Toastman’s bread-based pyrotechnic display. But more pyrotechnics were soon to come, as it was a Friday Fireworks night. This season, the Power have taken the novel step of filming their fireworks with a remote controlled drone.
This, showing the drones in action, is one of my favorite Vines of the year. Also, it conveys the extreme intensity of the Power’s fireworks display. I was a big fan.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) July 20, 2014
When the fireworks were over, a squadron of vacuum-toting interns appeared on the field in order to clean up the pyrotechnic debris. Their appearance was a sure sign that the evening had come to an end. Good night from Charleston, West Virginia.
Meanwhile, my next trip begins in just over a week. Here’s the itinerary (an asterisk next to the name means that a designated eater is still needed at that location).
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