On the Road: Hitting the Big Time in Indianapolis
The fourth stop on this, my penultimate road trip of the season, was Indianapolis. I had been to this city once before in a professional context, as Indianapolis was the site of the 2009 Winter Meetings. Weirdly enough, I didn’t visit the Indianapolis Indians’ home of Victory Field during the 2009 Winter Meetings. I did, however, take a tour of the Colts’ home of Lucas Oil Field. Man, this feels like a long time ago.
After checking into the downtown La Quinta, I began the .75 mile walk to Victory Field. Along the way, I passed the home of the Indianapolis Pacers. It is called the “Bankers Life Fieldhouse,” because very few things are more exciting than the life of a banker.
Ah, yes, here we are: Victory Field, built in 1996 as the home of the Indianapolis Indians. Please note that the Indians are NOT an affiliate of the Indians, but the Pittsburgh Pirates. They and the Spokane Indians are the only two teams in Minor League Baseball to share a name with a Major League team while not being affiliated with the team in question. Do with that what you will.
Victory Field is located within spitting distance of Lucas Oil Field, the NCAA Hall of Champions and the Indianapolis Zoo (among other points of cultural interest). It is also located within spitting distance of a steam plant.
Upon arriving at the stadium, I was met by Indians media relations manager Brian Bosma. He was a very gracious and accommodating host throughout the evening, which kicked off with a walking tour. We started at the uppermost tier of the ballpark, with me making an offhand remark that walking around at this level of elevation felt like “being on the roof.”
We did, climbing an imposing steel ladder to get there, and here are the photos to prove it. That monolithic JW Marriot is a recent addition to the skyline; it was completed in 2011 and is part of a $450 million “Marriot Place” project consisting of five hotels that are all connected to the Indiana convention center.
Also, note that the Indiana state capitol building can be seen as well. It’s located beyond center field (shaded toward left), a green-ish dome dwarfed by the buildings surrounding it.
Unfortunately, I did not get the chance to meet Indy Indians president Max Schumacher, who began working for the team in 1957 as a ticket sales manager. He became president in 1969, and was instrumental in the conception and construction of Victory Field. The stadium opened in 1996, its name a reference to the team’s previous home of Bush Stadium, which itself bore the name of Victory Field from 1942-67. (Bush Stadium, incidentally, has since been turned into an apartment complex.)
Anyhow, I was talking about not having met Max Schumacher. But I did visit his suite. That framed uniform on the wall dates back to 1949. It belonged to the team’s bat boy, who eventually grew up to be a bat man.
Each of these balls is from an Indianapolis Indians’ no-hitter, signed by the pitcher (or pitchers) who threw it.
Below, you will be gazing upon framed ticket stubs from the last game at Bush Stadium (July 3, 1996) and first game at Victory Field (July 11). I can only imagine how hectic that season must have been, closing one ballpark and opening another in the span of a little more than a week.
Down on the concourse, one can find many an illuminated placard dedicated to prominent Indy Indians alumni.
Bosma told me a story about Randy Johnson during his time in Indianapolis, when he was so wild and intimidating that none of his teammates would stand in against him during batting practice. Razor Shines finally stepped up the challenge and immediately got drilled; thereupon everyone steered clear of Randy Johnson for good. Out of options, the team borrowed a mannequin from the nearby Indiana State museum and Johnson promptly threw a ball right through it.
I can only assume that this is true, but, even if it’s apocryphal its still a good story and who doesn’t love a good apocryphal story?
As for the presence of Razor Shines on the Indians’ roster, that can definitely be confirmed. He spent nine seasons in Indianapolis, retiring after the 1993 season at the age of 36.
“Razor Shines, he was the mayor of Indy,” said Bosma. “If you talk to anyone here who’s in their late 30s or early 40s, they’ll say that Razor was their favorite player.”
Razor and Randy played in Indianapolis at a time when the Indians were affiliated with the Expos. These days, the Pirates are the parent club.
This seating section is sponsored by the Hoosier Lottery. If an Indians player hits a home run off of the foul pole in the fifth inning, then one person in that section wins $1 million. This has yet to happen.
Here’s another enticing home run target. A pre-selected fan wins this truck if a player hits it with a home run, but that fan needs to be in attendance to win it. While the truck has been hit on several occasions, no fan has ever been in the ballpark to claim it. Bosma reports that Tony Sanchez hit it once, and asked if he could win it instead. No deal, Tony. No deal.
My previous post, on the Columbus Clippers, noted that that team has a Victory Bell. Well, so do the Indians. Specifically, it is the “Max Schumacher Victory Bell.” It was dedicated in 2011, and a fan gets to ring it after every victory. Max Schumacher does not ring it, because after it was dedicated the team lost their next seven games and he figured that he must have cursed it somehow.
With the game about to begin, Bosma and I headed over to “The Cove.”
Note the near-total lack of outfield signage. It’s all part of a larger organizational philosophy, to present the team as simply and professionally as possible. This is a Minor League stadium with a Major League kind of feel, as befits a team playing in a city that also hosts an NBA and NFL team.
Plenty of people were willing to pay $10 for berm seats, hauling in their own blankets and coolers. Or, even better for young fans, membership in the team’s Knothole Club costs just $16 and includes a season-ticket pass good for lawn or reserved seat admission. $16 for the whole season!
But we weren’t in the Cove just so that I could randomly take a bunch of photos and make a bunch of observations. I can do that anywhere. We were in the Cove so that I could meet my designated eater for the evening (you know, the individual who eats the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet prohibits).
This is Greg Hotopp, an Indianapolis resident (by way of Cincinnati) who works for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
This was definitely a first, and credit to Brian Bosma for doing it: Greg was given his own designated eating credential. Other teams, take note!
Greg said that he enjoys attending Indians games with his wife, Tracie, and their three-year-old daughter (she was left at home with a sitter on this particular evening). He has no problem rooting for the home team, but as a fan of the Cincinnati Reds this can lead to conflicting emotions.
“It can be tough as a Reds fan,” he said. “Like, ‘McCutcheon is amazing!’ and then the realization ‘Oh, crap. That’s not going to bode well for the Reds.'”
But Greg wasn’t here to wax on the contradictory nature of the Minor League fan experience. He was here to eat, and eat he did.
Designated Eater checks in IndyIndians https://t.co/7aBPlMPE9v
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) July 21, 2014
Greg is eating a “Shish-Kadog,” which is a shish kabob on a hot dog bun. It stands to reason that this would be so. This is the chicken version, topped with onion, pineapple, peppers and teriyaki sauce.
Greg was mildly pleased with this creation.
“It tastes pretty good, pretty much as advertised,” he said. “A little messy, but that’s okay. I’d never had pineapple at a ballpark before.”
The kadog was washed down with an Indians Lager, made specially for the team by Sun King brewery.
“This isn’t just me trying to impress Ben Hill, I actually like it,” said Greg of the lager. “This is third on my list of favorite Sun King beers [behind Sunlight Cream Ale and Cowbell Porter]. I get growlers of this.”
Tracie couldn’t help chiming in here.
“All of a sudden he’s this craft beer guy,” she said. “He used to never drink it.”
Greg agreed that this was true. He was more of a whisky guy, with Kentucky Barrel Bourbon Ale serving as his gateway to the world of beer.
Beer definitely goes with nachos.
BBQ Nachos, specifically, topped with pulled pork, cheese and jalapenos. Traiei had been content to stay behind the scenes — “Behind every designated eater is a good woman,” said Greg — but who can resist nachos?
And with that, Greg’s duties were done.
“It was everything I could have wished for, and more,” he said.
Thank you for your service.
While still in The Cove, I spoke with communications coordinator Chris Robinson about the team’s Twitter account. The Indians have more followers than any team in Minor League Baseball, and I wrote an article about the team’s Twitter strategy and style HERE.
Robinson, wishing to retain an air of mystique, posed for a photo with his face obscured. He may or may not be the same Chris Robinson who fronts the Black Crowes.
As Rowdie looked on, I made a top-secret transformation into a Chik-Fil-A Cow. A sign was draped around my neck exhorting the populace to consume the flesh of a chicken in lieu of consuming the flesh of a cow.
Did an onfield race occur? Does documentation exist? These questions may never be answered. All that I can tell you is that transforming into a cow and then back into a human takes a lot out of a guy. I was exhausted.
But there was no rest, for the weary or otherwise. Another metamorphosis led to a another new persona, this time as an overall, glove and goggle-wearing keg-toting bearded Sun King brewer.
My task was to carry a keg toward my teammate stationed in the outfield.
Good luck, and Godspeed.
It was a valiant effort, but we lost. I drowned my sorrows with french fries from the team’s “Build-A-Fry” concession area. (One can also build their own burgers and nachos.) Yes, there are french fries in there somewhere.
And, yes, that is a collector’s cup. I have not done a good job providing #cupdates this season, but here you go:
And that’s all she wrote from Indianapolis, she being the muse that guides all creative endeavors. I spent the last inning of the game in fan mode, sitting in the Cove with Bosma, waxing nostalgic about childhood baseball memories. It was nice to get the chance to do this.
But, alas, no victory bell could be heard at Victory Field that evening as the visiting Charlotte Knights emerged victorious. Maybe some other time, bell. Maybe some other time.
Meanwhile, my next trip begins later this week. Here’s the itinerary (an asterisk next to the name means that a designated eater is still needed at that location). Get in touch.
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