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On the Road: Here, There and Everywhere in Spokane

To see all posts from my August 12 visit to the Spokane Indians, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

Spokane’s Avista Stadium was my 27th and final ballpark stop of the season, bringing my lifetime total to…well, I really don’t know at the moment, but something like 150. Sometimes all these ballparks start to blur together, forming a monolithic facility of the mind. Other times, like during this particular Friday evening night in Spokane, every moment stands out as distinct.

It was gorgeous night in a gorgeous ballpark, inside and out.

img_2737Especially on the inside.

img_2738As mentioned in the previous post, the right field foul line is a scant 296 feet away from home plate. I hope these fans brought their gloves, or are at least prepared to catch some dingers in their beer cups.

img_2739Further back from the field (but still in “catch a dinger” territory), two young fans were playing a giant game of checkers. Note that the kid in black shoes is moving a black checker, while his opponent took off his shoes and is representing his side of the board via white socks. I am convinced this was intentional.
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Heading toward center field, one finds “The Depot.” This replica train car used to be part of a restaurant, and was placed in the ballpark by a crane. It’s appropriate to the area, too, as there are railroad tracks approximately 200 years from the ballpark.

img_0417I found it hard to take photos in The Depot, as it’s very narrow.

img_0418The view, however, is incredible.

img_0419I was still wandering about with Indians senior vice president Otto Klein at this juncture of the evening. He told me the team overstaffs the ballpark, so that “customer service standards go way beyond anything anyone would expect at a game.”

“We want you to spill your beer, so you see how fast we clean it up and replace it,” he said. “You could eat off the floor, though I wouldn’t recommend it. Every day is someone’s Opening Day.”

Being chronically overstaffed allows the Indians to do things like host Baseball Bingo on an evening with over 6000 fans in the ballpark (in my experience, I’ve founf that most teams reserve Baseball Bingo for quiet weekday evenings). And if they want to check their bingo cards, fans know just where to go. There are referees positioned at the aisles.
img_2743Behind home plate, there is a candy-striped box reserved for doctors. The doctor sitting in the box is at the ready to deal with injuries from foul balls or any other fan emergency. Klein said that the box is generally occupied by an internist who receives practicum hours for his or her attendance. It never sits MD.

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Those in the doctor box get a view that, approximately, looks like this.

img_0423All Spokane Indians games are broadcast on the radio. A select few are broadcast on local TV station SWX — Right Now Sports and Weather — and this was one of them. Sam Adams and color man Bob Castle were in the Bob Robertson press box calling the game, and reporter Lindsay Joy was doing live spots from the stands. One of these live spots was an interview with me, as the game was going on, as we stood hard up against the home dugout.

I promised Lindsay I would save her from any foul balls that came her way as she faced away from the field, and fortunately we never found out if I could keep that promise (my guess is “probably not.”) The interview went well, just breezed right along, and it was fun being able to talk about who I am and what I do in such an uniquely immediate fashion.

“Down in front!” says man wearing tie-dyed shirt.

img_2764Afterward I stopped by the production truck, parked just outside the ballpark. I’m paraphrasing, but they told me that my interview with Lindsay was “the greatest moment in the history of live television.” Or at least that’s what I choose to believe.

img_2770Searching for even more “van”tage points, I traversed to the upper level.

img_0427Here’s the view from the Bob Robertson press box.

img_0429Duty called once again, however, as I was recruited to participate in an on-field paint can stacking competition. I easily could have won this thing. But, as you can see, I got greedy and greediness led to defeat. I was like a walking Aesop’s fable out there.

Despite my defeat, Doris the Spokane-asaurus was happy to see me afterwards.

img_2771As was Otto, named after real person who works for the team Otto Klein. Otto gave me his…actually, I’m going to save that joke for later.

img_2774This ballgame, against the eventual Northwest League champion Eugene Emeralds, was zipping right along. I barely had time to admire the detail and complexity of the videoboard headshots.

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I was once again in the Bob Robertson press box because I was once again taking part in an SWX televised endeavor. Sam Adams and Bob Castle, TV announcers both, had agreed to serve as designated eaters while they were broadcasting the game. This, too, was a Ben’s Biz Blog first. And since it integrated so quickly and seamlessly into the evening as a whole I’m not going to document it in a separate post. I’m just gonna keep right on rolling.

A small array of items had been assembled just for Sam and Bob.

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On the left, in the front, is deep-fried PB&J. Next to that are the Bacon Blue Cheese Fries — beer-coated fries with blue cheese dressing, mixed with cheese and bacon crumbles. And, finally, we had a Walking Taco. As the game was going on, Sam and Bob tried these items and offered their opinions while (nominally) calling the game in progress. It was a bit chaotic.

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img_2785Okay, switch.

img_2787Just another day on the job for Bob and Sam.

img_2789It was all on TV and now, of course, it’s on the internet:

Thanks to Indians public relations director Bud Bareither for helping to make what transpired above a reality.

Bud!

img_2790The ballgame was nearing its assumed conclusion, but there was still more to do. Bidding adieu to Bud and crew, I headed back to the front office. See that circle in the middle of the floor?

img_2794That’s a vintage safe, unearthed during renovations and, yet, never opened. Read all about it, and savor the mystery.

img_2792Meanwhile, on the field, the Emeralds had locked up a 1-0 victory over the hometown team.

img_0440Of course, the combination of baseball and Friday night equals fireworks. But first, the fans all sang along to “Sweet Caroline.” If there’s one thing I learned this season, it’s that “Sweet Caroline” is played at ballparks all over the country with no regard to affiliation. So, sure, a Rangers farm team in Washington state? Have at it.

I’d share my fireworks photos, but per usual they were awful. Pyro-terrible. But what wasn’t (isn’t?) awful is/was my nightly Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day, which I wrote and disseminated as fans were filing out of the ballpark.

Among the individuals filing out of the ballpark was broadcaster Sam Adams, happily toting all the leftovers from his previous on-air eating spree.

img_2799And that did it for my time in Spokane. I loved it there.

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And that didn’t just do it for my time in Spokane, it did it for my road trip out west as well as my entire 2016 traveling season. This is always a bittersweet feeling and, per usual, a fortuitous selection on a local rock radio station helped provide the proper soundtrack to my mood.

Thanks to everyone I’ve met along the way, as well as to everyone who has followed along with me as I attempt to chronicle my experiences. This marks the end of a blogging era, with a new one soon to begin.

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

On the Road: Soaking it in, in Spokane

To see all posts from my August 12 visit to the Spokane Indians, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

As I walked into Avista Stadium, the longtime home of the Spokane Indians, a team employee greeted me with the following announcement.

“Free raffle tonight! Don’t do anything. Just be present.”

I knew it was gonna be a good night.

img_0392Truth be told, I knew it was gonna be a good night before I even walked inside. Outside the ballpark, the all-female band “Too Many Men” was kicking out some minimalist rock jams. It all seemed so very “Pacific Northwest,” aligned with my ’90s-era indie rock stereotypes of the region, like if this band started writing original songs they’d probably get signed to K Records.

As I entered the ballpark, director of public relations Bud Bareither came down to greet me. Earlier in the season, Bud had alerted me to the presence of the Indians’ late ’80s “team photos taken at the local mall” baseball card sets. So, I was already a fan of Bud.

Bud!

img_0393Bud quickly passed me off to Indians senior vice president Otto Klein, who was very generous with his time despite it being a busy Friday night. Otto had a lot to tell me because, when it comes to the Indians, there’s a lot to talk about. Avista Stadium opened in 1958, and professional baseball in the region dates back to the 19th century. The Indians, currently a Rangers affiliate, have been members of the Class A Short Season Northwest League since 1983; prior to that they were a Pacific Coast League entity.

In 1958, corporate naming rights were an unheard-of phenomenon. The ballpark was then known as the “Interstate Fairgrounds.”

img_0396The Indians’ front office is decorated with photos, paintings and collages detailing the team’s long history. This tri-panel shows Tommy Lasorda (manager of the 1970 Indians, considered by some to be the greatest Minor League team of all time), Tommy Davis (who hit .345 for the Indians in 1959 at the age of 20, just prior to the start of an 18-season MLB career) and Levi McCormack (whose father was a chief in the Nez Perce tribe).

img_0398The Hall of Fame Plaza sits outside the ballpark, honoring Cooperstown-enshrined individuals with Spokane connections. Lasorda, Don Sutton and George Brett are three such individuals.

img_0402“We’ve got a lot of stories to tell, and we do our best to celebrate them,” said Klein.

The “Indians” name is, of course, a potentially problematic aspect of the team’s rich history. There are distinctions that need to be made between celebration and exploitation, between paying tribute and racist caricature. Klein told me that, in the ’90s, new ownership was sensitive to these concerns and erred on the side of caution. While the Indians name remained, the team presented itself without any overt references to Native Americans. The result was non-controversial (“respect through exclusion,” was once how I heard it referred to), but resulted in a profound disconnect.

In 2006, the Indians partnered with the local Spokane tribe and rebranded themselves with the full support of the tribe. Uniforms and ballpark signage are in the tribe’s Salish language (despite the fact that Salish has never been a written language). I wrote a story on this relationship in 2014, and was grateful for the opportunity to finally see it in person.

This sign provides a good overview. Please excuse the glare.

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img_2734Otto had to take a break from our pregame tour so that he could do a radio interview with Spokane broadcaster Mike Doyle.

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As you’ll recall, I met Mike at the previous evening’s Tri-City Dust Devils game (Spokane was the visiting club). At that ballgame, Mike was joined in the booth by 87-year-old local broadcasting legend Bob Robertson. Bob wasn’t in attendance this evening, but his presence is always felt.

img_2724In fact, Mike calls the games from Avista Stadium’s “Bob Robertson Press Box.” It’s easy to tell which booth is Mike’s. On a brader level,  I feel that any Minor League broadcaster who’s with the same team for three or more years should get his own logo.

img_0428The Avista Stadium concourse underwent an extensive renovation in 2014, and this centralized concession ares was one of the improvements.

img_0406And, jeez, it sure took long enough. This post has thus far been comprised of 13 photos, one Vine and over 700 words, and we’re just now making it to the playing field.

img_2725The ballpark offers views of rolling hills giving way to the mountains of Idaho. Note, also, that there is a converted train car in right field — The Depot — that serves as a group hospitality area. Oh, and while you’re noting things, also also please note that it’s just 296 feet down the right field line. I feel like, given an aluminum bat, I might even be able to hit a baseball 296 feet. (At least if it’s a golf ball I’m hitting with the aluminum bat.)

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Just another day in the life of the Spokane Indians.

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And a particularly beautiful one at that.

img_2744Of course, there’ll be more where this came from. Please stand by.

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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On the Road: A Spin Through the Concession Stands in Tri-City

To see all posts from my August 11 visit to the Tri-City Dust Devils, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

Minor League Baseball is, often, a family affair. Therefore it made sense that, when I visited the Tri-City Dust Devils, I had a whole family of designated eaters. This is Theresa and Joe Scott, flanking their son, Hunter. As designated eaters, the Scotts would be tasked with consuming the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.

img_0381The Scotts live in Pasco, so close to Gesa Stadium that they could walk to it if they wanted to. Joe was born and raised here, Theresa moved to the area when she was seven. Joe works for the BNSF Railroad as a labor hostler, a job that includes tasks such as refueling the trains and changing the brake chutes. He’s been with BNSF for 14 years; both his Dad and his uncle work there.

Baseball factors heavily into the Scott’s summers. Theresa is president of the Pasco Little League, Joe coaches and Hunter plays second base and shortstop. The family are Dust Devils season ticket holders and members of the booster club, and in that capacity they host players during the season (at the time I visited they were hosting reliever Mark Zimmerman, though he was soon promoted to the Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore Storm).

Hunter, while not attending school (he’s in the fifth grade) and playing second base, is a member of the local 4H club. He told me a sad story about a pig he had been raising, who had escaped from his enclosure, couldn’t get back in and died of heat stroke (this is a desert climate, remember).

“He was a good pig,” said Hunter. “I was gonna name him Bacon.”

“That’s what we told him, ‘Don’t give it it a real name,'” added Theresa. “You don’t want to get attached.”

Bacon wasn’t on the menu this evening, but pulled pork was. This is the Grand Slam Burger, in which the burger is topped with cheese, barbecue sauce and pulled pork.

img_2685Joe took care of this one.

“It’s good,” said Joe. “The pulled pork and burger combination was something I wasn’t so sure about. I’m a big pork guy, and raised pigs growing up, but wasn’t expecting them to go together.”

img_0388Hunter, whose favorite restaurant is Red Robin, likes to get chicken fingers at Dust Devils games. He said he likes them because they’re “nice and crispy.”

img_0386Hunter also got a hot dog, as it was “Dollar in Your Dog Night.” Who knows, he could get rich!

Well, close enough. Hunter ended up with two $1 food vouchers.

img_2690Theresa is fan of the garlic fries, remarking that “the Mariners are known for their garlic fries, where I learned to love them, and I was so excited when they were brought to the Dust Devils.”

(None of my garlic fries pictures came out well at all. Cameras, like vampires, don’t like garlic.)

img_0385That probably would’ve been enough food, but why stop with “enough”? This is America. Hacienda Del Sol, a local Mexican restaurant, has a kiosk at the ballpark. I went to this kiosk and procured a chicken nachos with everything.

This is so stupid:

We got the “everything” nachos despite Joe’s stated aversion to sour cream and guacamole. He said that he could work around it.

img_2692Theresa affirmed that these nachos are “better than normal ones” and that they regularly recommend Hacienda Del Sol to people visiting from out of town.

“If they’re looking for something a little different I say ‘Oh, you want the nachos,'” she said.

Hunter didn’t want the nachos. Or, maybe he did, but he had more important things to do. Namely, running in the nightly “Dusty’s Dash,” in which hordes of kids chase mascot Dusty across the field.

img_2696Theresa and Joe, then, had the nachos to themselves.

img_2693If you’re ever at a Dust Devils game, you might want to give them a “Tri.”

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: A Whirlwind of Activity in the Tri-Cities

To see all posts from my August 11 visit to the Tri-City Dust Devils, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

(August 11, part two) We now commence with my second, and second-to-last, post from Gesa Stadium in Pasco, Washington. Gesa Stadium is the home of the Tri-City Dust Devils, Class-A Short Season affiliate of the San Diego Padres. On this particular Thursday evening, the Dust Devils were taking on the Spokane Indians.

img_0378In the above photo, you’ll notice the playing field’s distinct demarcation between sunny and shady. This sunshade, located on the first base side and mentioned in the previous post, has a lot to do with that. Most crucially, it renders the third base side bleachers habitable.

img_0380During a between-inning break, I joined Dust Devils emcee Erik the Peanut Man for an on-field interview.

This interview was a lot of fun, albeit rushed in the way that most between-inning endeavors are. This was the distinct highlight:

Nailed it, indeed! Still basking in the glow of my ad-libbing success, I adjourned to the camera well adjacent to the home dugout. My friend and co-worker Jared Ravich, one of the first designated eaters in Ben’s Biz Blog history, happened to be there as well. I one day hope I can be as cool as him.

After meeting with my designated eaters — this, of course, will be chronicled in the next post — I transitioned to a food-based endeavor of a different sort. Erik the Peanut Man, who sells peanuts in addition to being the onfield emcee, recruited me as his apprentice. He even had a hat, personalized apron and bow tie at the ready for me. Erik the Peanut Man is nothing is not prepared.

Erik, an employee of the Dust Devils since their 2001 inception, knows what he’s doing.

I didn’t, of course, but I did make one sale that seemed largely motivated by pity. My stint as a vendor also served as an inspiration for the evening’s Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke.

“Good job,” said Erik. “Good job.”

img_0389I then went from peanuts to the press box, spending an inning on the air with Dust Devils broadcaster Chris King.

Chris has a good view of the action, as broadcasters usually do.

img_2703At this point in the evening Jared was in the press box as well, equipped with a camera that can take 360 degree photos. I can’t embed the picture he took here on the blog, unfortunately, but check it out HERE. It’s fairly amazing.

The Dust Devils fell to Spokane, 2-0, and afterwards kids ran the bases with an enthusiasm that could not be quelled by the home team’s defeat. I then interviewed Erik for an MiLB.com story, and in so doing found a Dust Devils collector’s cup in the stands. Here ya go, #cupdate fiends:

img_2705Afterwards, in the deserted stadium, I reflected on (and my photos reflected off) a long-ago incarnation of Tri-Cities professional baseball. Cal Ripken, Sr., managed the 1965 Tri-City Atoms; this photo shows Cal and some of his players along with their young children. One of those young children is, of course, Cal Ripken, Jr.

img_2707En route to the parking lot, I saw a man in a Dust Devils uniform huddled in discussion with a few non-uniformed cohorts. It turned out to be Dust Devils coach Jonathan Meyer and members of the stadium ops crew, planning a Nerf gun ambush on the front office.

Only in Minor League Baseball, folks.

Earlier in the evening, Erik had told me that he as his Dust Devil cohorts aspire to make Gesa Stadium “the friendliest ballpark in the Minors.” That sounds like something any team would say, and, certainly most ballparks are friendly environments. But Gesa Stadium stood out to me from start to finish, in that nearly everyone I interacted with (fans and front office) exuded a genuine, easy-going warmth. Maybe I just happened to be there on a good night, but this sense of connectedness and camaraderie permeated the environment and went a long way toward my overall enjoyment of what, all things considered, is a fairly pedestrian ballpark. I had never been to Washington’s Tri-Cities before, and I don’t know when I’ll be back, but I left with the distinct impression that it’s a good region to live, work and, of course, watch baseball. Thumbs up to Pasco, Kennewick and Richland. Thumbs up to the Dust Devils.

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

On the Road: Applying Sunblock in the Tri-Cities

To see all posts from my August 11 visit to the Tri-City Dust Devils, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

We’ve now reached the penultimate stop of my “Out West” road trip. I don’t know if I’ll pen the ultimate blog post about this location, but I’m gonna give it my best shot.

That location? Gesa Stadium, home of the Tri-City Dust Devils.

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Gesa Stadium opened in 1995 as the home of the independent Tri-City Posse. The Posse spent six years in the facility, at which point the Northwest League Dust Devils moved in. The Dust Devils spent the first 14 seasons of their existence as a Colorado Rockies affiliate. 2016 marked the team’s second with the San Diego Padres.

Oh, and for the record: The three cities referenced in the Tri-City name are “Pasco, Kennewick and Richland.” Gesa Stadium is located in Pasco.

Upon entering the facility and walking approximately 40 paces, I turned around and looked back toward where I had just been. The light poles in the parking resembled a large family of malnourished diplodocuses. 

img_0368On this evening, the Dust Devils would be facing off against the Spokane Indians. In the press box, I met Indians announcers Bob Robertson (left) and Mike Doyle.

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Bob Robertson, 87, is a broadcasting legend whose experience calling Minor League games dates back to the 1949 Wenatchee Chiefs. He spent 46 seasons as the voice of Washington State Football, as well as many years with the Spokane Indians (the press box at Spokane’s Avista Stadium is named for him). Though Bob officially retired from that role after the 2010 season, he still calls games for the team on a part-time basis.

“It’s better than sitting at home watching bad television,” Bob told me. “I don’t know how long I’ll be doing this. At my age, I could be gone any minute. I don’t worry about it, but I’m aware of it….But if the Big Guy’s looking for me, he’s gonna have to hustle to find me.”

Mike is now the Indians lead announcer, but he told me “All of Bob’s number one guys are guys who used to be his number twos.”

In the press box I also met Scott Tylinski, the Dust Devils official scorer.

img_0372I mention Scott because he’s probably the only official scorer in Minor League Baseball who also happens to be a nuclear engineer. The Columbia Generating Station is located in the Tri-Cities area, generating approximately 10 percent of the energy in Washington State.

But enough about the people in the press box. How’s the view?

img_0370As you can see in the above photo, something anomalous was occurring on the field. A screen, adorned with team logos, had been set up in front of the pitcher’s mound. Someone appeared to be carrying a podium.

Curiosity piqued, I walked down to the field and was met by what, by Class A Short-Season standards, counts as a “media horde.”

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The reason this horde had assembled was because San Diego Padres president Mike Dee was in town to announce an extension of their affiliation agreement with the Dust Devils. It took all of my willpower not to yell Beastie Boys-related queries at Mike Dee. Did he have mad hits like he was Rod Carew? Did he have attractions like he was Elvis Costello? Was he straight-up nuts like his name was Mike Bazzini?

The players reacted to the affiliation news with indifference. They probably already knew, and who cared anyway? Next season they’d probably be in Fort Wayne, living like kings.

img_0375From the field, I had a good view of Gesa Stadium’s massive sunshade. The story of how this sunshade came to be, and what it means for the team, can be found HERE.

img_0377My sunshade story filled my “articles about inanimate objects” quota for the evening, but what about the people?

Well, here’s a person, and not just any person but Erik the Peanut Guy. Erik’s the onfield emcee and, yes, late-innings peanut guy. He was a big part of my night in the Tri-Cities, and I wrote a story about him HERE.

img_2678I also became acquainted with Dusty, who is named Dusty because he is comprised largely of dust. As we all are, our corporeal forms ephemeral.

img_2674I was holding a baseball in the above photo because, yes, I had been asked to throw out a ceremonial first pitch. Another night, another ballpark, another perfect strike. See for yourself:

Shortly after I put on yet another pitching clinic, displaying proper mechanics to my legions of indifferent acquaintances, the evening’s ballgame began. And that is where the next post in this Dust Devils blog series will begin. With the beginning of a ballgame. As it should be.

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

 

On the Road: Cheesesteak and Euphemisms in Boise

To see all posts from my August 10 visit to the Boise Hawks, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

At Memorial Stadium, home of the Boise Hawks, I met a man named Sean Miller. But Sean was not just any man. Sean had volunteered to be my designated eater, consuming the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.

img_0342Sean, who works as a branch manager for construction machinery corporation Caterpillar, is an Idaho guy. He’s lived in Boise for the past 15 years, and before that he was in Pocatello. He and his friends are big baseball fans, to the extent that they’ll think nothing of leaving Boise at midnight to hit up a Rockies day game.

“All I need is a Rockie dog,” he said.

Sean is also a big fan of the Hawks, especially since the team became a Rockies affiliate (prior to the 2015 season). He and his family have been season ticket holders for four years, a role he transitioned to after hanging up his softball spikes. When dining at Memorial Stadium, Sean said that he usually goes with the Killer Kielbasa. Today, his dining options would be a bit more varied.

We began with an order of “Redneck Tacos,” available from the “Nacho Business” concourse kiosk. Redneck Tacos consist of pulled pork, cabbage, cheese, pico de gallo and barbecue sauce. An order of three will set you back $8.50.

img_0341Have at is, Sean. Have at it.

“The pork’s really good, and I like that they have the cabbage on there. This is like a Carolina pulled pork sandwich,” said Sean. “You can’t go wrong with barbecue pulled pork.”

Next up was the Idaho Cheesesteak: provolone cheese, meat, peppers, onions and…hash browns.

img_0344Let’s go in for a closer look.

img_2633“That’ll set you free right there,” said Sean, gazing at this state-specific cheesesteak in admiration and wonder.

img_0345“You can taste the potatoes in there, and it gives it a different texture,” said Sean. “The meat’s tender, and the way they cook it with the onions and peppers? You just can’t go wrong.”

The Idaho Cheesesteak had been procured at this concession stand, located in a picnic area on the third base side of the stadium.

img_0346Next up? Rocky Mountain Oysters.

img_2637“Rocky Mountain Oysters” sounds appealing enough, but it’s just another name for deep-fried bull calf gonads. (I once enjoyed a similar dish in my pre-gluten free days, at a cattleman’s restaurant in Oklahoma City. There they were called lamb fries.)

Sean was familiar with Boise’s favorite culinary euphemism, telling me that nearby Eagle, Idaho, is home to one of the biggest Rocky Mountain Oyster feeds in the country. He also wanted no part in eating one. All of a sudden, Sean remembered he had a previous engagement with a facepainter. Ok, Sean. Fine. See you later. We’ll just have to find someone else to eat testicles.

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That person turned out to be Toby Miller (no relation to Sean), a fellow Caterpillar employee. Toby, having grown up in a family of ranchers, was far less squeamish than Sean.

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“I’m on the business end of a steer occasionally,” said Toby. “When that happens, that’s what you end up having for dinner. They’re good with a cold beer.”

He then turned to Sean, who was still getting his head painted. “See, the problem with you is that you think too much.”

Toby in action:

“I do triathlons, so this is not my usual diet,” said Toby. “I like the small ones, they taste like chicken. That’s the joke, right? It all tastes like chicken.”

God bless Toby, stepping in where Sean dared not tread.

img_0350Sean’s head did look pretty cool, though.

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***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

On the Road: Purple Pros in Boise

To see all posts from my August 10 visit to the Boise Hawks, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

Okay, we’re in the home stretch now. After visiting four teams in the California League and three in the Pacific Coast League, my 2016 travels concluded with stops at three Northwest League ballparks. The first of these stops was Memorial Stadium, home of the Boise Hawks.

img_0322Memorial Stadium’s first base side bleachers are framed by the light towers, looking for all the world like the world’s biggest goal post.

img_0319The Idaho sky was a sight to behold on this late Wednesday afternoon, as wispy white clouds streaked across an endless blue expanse. It was hot as all get-out, but nonetheless this was still an irrefutably great day for baseball.

img_2627Welcome to Hawkstown, U.S.A.

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The bold blue sky was offset by a preponderance of purple, so long as one was willing to focus one’s gaze Earthward. The Hawks became a Rockies affiliate prior to the 2015 season, and the front office dutifully swathed large sections of the ballpark in Colorado colors.

img_2632There is purple paint on the exterior clubhouse cinder blocks, and purple paint along the wooden fence demarcating the third base side picnic area from the playing field.

img_0325This growth chart is a great way to familiarize one’s self with the current Rockies’ system, so long as you’re willing to overlook the fact that it excludes the team’s Rookie-level and Class A Advanced affiliates.

img_2626This kids play area is where all the most talon-ted young athletes gather.

img_0331The team store is located at the concourse level, just behind home plate. Hawkstown, U.S.A., baby. Hawkstown, U.S.A.

img_0335Among the items for sale in the team store is a Fruit Pickers jersey, an homage to Boise’s first professional baseball team.

img_0334While wandering amid the items for sale, I ran into the one and only Humphrey the Hawk. He is not for sale.

img_0336It was, all things considered, a slow night at Memorial Stadium. Assistant general manager Mike Van Hise told me that the previous day had been a sellout — the seventh of the season — and that attendance had been on the upswing since new ownership took over prior to the 2015 season. (The Hawks drew 114,476 in 2016, their best mark since at least 2005.) But this particular Wednesday was one of those blase dates on the schedule, with no particular promotion or group night presence to put it over the top.

C’est la vie. I kinda like low-key evenings. We all need one once in a while.

The National Anthem was sung as purple-hued players faced the deep-blue sky in contemplative thought of our country and their place within it.

img_0339I spent a good portion of the game’s early innings with my designated eater and this, as always, will be documented in the next post. As the game wore on and the sun made its descent, the ballpark took on more muted, soothing tones.

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A particular highlight of the Memorial Stadium in-game experience is the nightly Potato Race. This tweet explains it all.

The evening just kept slip-sliding away, into the inexorable, ineffable twilight.

img_0357Who knows exactly when it was, but at one point I wrote and disseminated a Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day. I now realize that I inadvertently plagiarized myself earlier in this post, by using a very similar play on words. I’m not the most talon-ted writer, so I overcompensate with puns.

The hits just kept on coming.

The Hawks were losing to visiting Hillsboro, 9-5, as they came to bat in their half of the eighth. This called for an appearance by “Rally Rocket,” the alter-ego of Hawks account executive Jon Jensen.

img_1082A Rally Rocket rally failed to materialize, however. Despite the game taking place in Hawkstown, U.S.A., the Hawks lost.

img_2649A little defeat never dampens the enthusiasm of base-running children, however. They streamed in from right field, circling the bases and then receiving a coupon from team sponsor Soda Stop.

img_2651And that did it for my evening at Memorial Stadium. Good night from the parking lot.

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***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: Max Effort, Jacked-Up Results in Reno

To see all posts from my August 8 visit to the Reno Aces, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

Soon after arriving at Reno’s Greater Nevada Field, I traveled to one of the ballpark’s onsite restaurants. This restaurant is called Bugsy’s, and it would be the site of that evening’s designated eater experience. There was just one problem, however — the evening before, my designated eater had regretfully backed out of his designated eating commitments because he wasn’t able to get off from work. I told the Aces about my predicament, and they went in-house to find a solution.

This is Max Margulies, a corporate partnerships account executive for both the Aces as well as the Reno 1868 FC soccer club (which will play its inaugural season at Greater Nevada Field in 2017). Max was my new designated eater, tasked with consuming the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet prohibits.

img_2492Max, 23, hails from San Diego and went to college at the University of Oregon. He’s now working in baseball and soccer, but says that his ultimate goal is to work for an NBA team. His favorite pastimes are body surfing and going kayaking in Lake Tahoe. His biggest fear? Spiders.

As you can see, Max had a formidable array of food laid out in front of him.

img_0276 Okay, let’s do this one at a time. We started with that massive hot dog on the left, which is, in fact, a “Versus Dog.”

img_0280In the above photo, the left-hand side of the dog is the Reno side. Reno is represented via pulled pork and apple cider vinegar slaw. On the right is a portion of the hot dog representing Salt Lake, that evening’s opponent. The Salt Lake side had roasted corn, bell peppers, cilantro crema and queso fresco.

Max went for the Reno side first.

Max called this a “filling bite” and praised the taste of the slaw. However, he did have one criticism.

“It was tough to hold,” he said. “It kind of felt like a wet diaper.”

With this appealing imagery still in mind, Max switched to the Salt Lake side of the Versus Dog.

img_0279“The peppers stand out immediately,” said Max. “I like this. Sweet and spicy.”

Next up was the Bambino Fries, which are topped with pulled pork, chicken, chicken and apple slaw. This was not one of my better food photography efforts.

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“I like the tangy barbecue sauce,” said Max. “I’m a loaded fries kind of guy so these were right up my alley.”

I did not get any photos of Max eating the fries, which is a shame as these photos would have surely been a great benefit to humanity. But I did not make this mistake when it came to the next item: the Caliente Burger.

img_0282The Caliente Burger consists of a half-pound Wagyu beef patty topped with lettuce, tomato, fried “bottlecaps” (jalapenos) and a “Firecracker” aioli made of lemon, mayo and Sriacha sauce. It’s a mouthful, as Max soon learned. To get this thing down, he had to do his best impression of a snake eating a goat.

img_2506“The jalapenos give it a nice kick, along with the sauce,” said Max. “And it’s got a nice crunch.”

Finally, there was a Verde Meatball Sub. It is topped with verde chili sauce, queso fresco and cilantro sprigs on a sourdough roll.

img_2508Max was beginning to show signs of fatigue, but he gamely carried on.

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“I’d never had verde sauce on a meatball before,” said Max. “But it works, and sourdough is a good choice.”

We could’ve have stopped there, of course. But no, we were taking it to the Max! Now it was time for dessert.

img_2519This dessert platter included funnel cake, red velvet funnel cake and, there in the back, a deep-fried Snickers. Max started with the Snickers.

img_2521“It’s awesome,” said Max. “But I don’t have much to say.”

Clearly, Max was running out of steam. He’d been through so much already, in such a short amount of time. It was getting increasingly hard for him to go on.

But never fear — Jack Reinheimer is here!

img_2526This was an historic first! Jack is the Aces shortstop, and never before had a first player spent time as one of my designated eaters. Aces marketing manager Audrery Hill had recruited him from the clubhouse, and even though he had reportedly just “crushed” some barbecue, he was happy to travel to the upper level to eat some more. It helped, of course, that Jack wasn’t in the starting line-up on this particular evening. Otherwise he probably wouldn’t have been able to continue his pregame food crushing spree.

“All I do is eat and play baseball,” said Jack, summing up his existence in a mere seven words.

You’d think someone who loves “crushing” food wouldn’t even bother with utensils, but Jack took a polite — some would say dainty — approach to the dessert plate.

img_2528Jack said that the deep-fried Snickers was “amazing” and that the red velvet funnel cake was “even better.” He then moved on to Max’s leftovers because, let’s face it, Max had a lot of leftovers.

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img_2535Jack was a man of few words, preferring to let his food crushing actions speak for themselves. He described the various items he tasted as “good”, “pretty good” and “amazing.”

“I’ll eat anything,” he said.

At one point, Jack got distracted by the view from the upper level.

“It looks pretty easy to get hits from up here,” he said.

Jack got plenty of hits in 2016. He had 144, tied with teammate Kyle Jensen for fifth-most in the Pacific Coast League.

img_2524Thus concluded the designated eating adventures of Jack and Max.

img_2537“I’ll definitely have to try more ballpark food,” said Max.

Jack agreed, and then turned his thoughts to the Aces’ next road trip.

“If there’s ever a Chipotle in the airport, it’s getting hit up,” he said. “The guys’ll just crush it.”

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: Whale Rides and Ball Views in Reno

To see all posts from my August 8 visit to the Reno Aces, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

August 8 (Part Two) — Once the ballgame was underway in Reno, I began my nightly bout of wandering. At Greater Nevada Field, the city is situated behind the ballpark and, therefore, visible from the outfield.

img_0296This is the view from beyond right field. The Truckee River keeps right on rolling.

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Joining the Truckee River and city skyline in Greater Nevada Field’s pantheon of ballpark views are these railroad tracks. Freight trains pass by throughout the ballgame, headed to parts known by some but not by me.

My circular journey brought me back to the area behind home plate. Archie was there. I really enjoy seeing Archie.

img_0302When I visited the Aces in 2013, Archie could talk. Archie no longer talks. It’s just one of those things.

This home plate concourse location was a designated meeting place, as I had been recruited to compete in the Schofferhofer “Race to the Beach” contest. You know the drill — you put on an orange t-shirt representing the presenting sponsor, and then you ride an inflatable killer whale toward articles of beach-themed clothing that placed along the grass on the third base side of the field. Upon reaching these articles of clothing, you must put them on before once again mounting the whale and heading to the finish line. You do this against an enthusiastic, friendly and somewhat profane native of North London named Tom, who now works in Tahoe as a ski and paddleboard instructor. Tom immediately becomes your best friend, despite the fact that you must compete against him.

img_2563Tom and I and the Aces personnel assigned to tending to us made our way to the front row, so that we’d be ready to leap into action as soon as the inning ended. Archie, owner of the most scuffed-up pair of size 24 Chuck Taylors that the world has ever seen, was waiting for us.

img_2565Finally, our moment arrived.

Clearly, I was no match for Tom. But even after this heated competition, we remained the best of friends.

img_2582My next stop was the outfield concourse, as I had been invited to spend some time inside the giant inflatable baseball that sings “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” every night from its perch beyond the outfield wall.

I guess this is the sort of thing that needs to be placed in a larger contect. Here’s a video example:

And a picture:

ballyboyboyIn the top of the seventh, myself and an Aces employee whose name I cannot recall at the moment (the back of his jersey said “Button”) entered the yet-to-be inflated baseball. While standing on a platform in the middle, it took shape around us.

In the midst of all this, I took a selfie.

img_2592When it came time to “sing” during the seventh inning stretch, the platform was raised (via a switch located outside of the ball itself) and the ball became visible over the outfield wall. As the sounds of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” came through over a walkie-talkie (it was too loud in the ball to hear the PA system), the ball’s “lips” were moved via these metal handles so that it would look like the ball was singing the song.

img_2595Here’s a video of what the “singing” looks like from the inside.

And that, my friends, is how that particular piece of sausage is made.

Thus concluded the “programmed” portion of my evening, which otherwise consisted of — you guessed it — wandering.

Neon ball…

img_0307…meet neon batter.

img_0309Between the ball and the batter lies the Freight House District, a year-round entertainment complex attached to the ballpark.

img_0308It was here where I wrote and disseminated my Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day. Most of the feedback I got on this one was along the lines of “Huh?” and then, “Okay, got it now. Took me a minute.”

As the Aces came to bat in the bottom of the 8th, trailing 4-2, the “Rally Llama” appeared on the videoboard. I tried to get a photo of the llama, but all I ended up with was Archie.

img_0313Archie is alright, though. Archie is, in fact, great.

The Rally Llama, or whatever it was, failed in its mission. The Aces lost, defeated by Bees. It was still a very enjoyable evening at Greater Nevada Field. The greatest, even.

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***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: The Biggest Little Ballpark in Reno

To see all posts from my August 8 visit to the Reno Aces, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

I visited 10 teams on my 2016 “Out West” road trip, four of which I had visited before. The Reno Aces fell into this category, but with an asterisk: When I stopped by Reno in 2013, the game was rained out. This meteorological misfortune led to one of the weirdest posts in the history of this blog, which presented an alternate (and startlingly convincing) account of my allegedly rained out night in Reno.

This time around, here in the year of our Lord 2016, I wanted normalcy. I wanted nine innings of baseball, played on a Monday, because everybody knows that Minor League teams are at their best on Mondays. That’s what I wanted, and that’s what I got.

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The Aces’ ballpark, originally known as Aces Ballpark, is now known as Greater Nevada Field. (There is no “Great Nevada Field,” in the state, but if there ever is, Greater Nevada Field will clearly have a leg up on it.) The Freight House District, seen on the left in the above photo, is an amalgam of bars and restaurants. It’s accessible to fans during the game but also open year-round as an all-purpose entertainment complex.

Immediately upon setting foot in the facility, I was greeted by Aces communications manager Cheyne Reiter. He ushered me onto the field.

img_0273Once on the field, I was introduced to pitcher Matt Capps. We had an interview scheduled.

Capps turned out to be a great interview, speaking with honesty and humor about his current, improbable comeback attempt (he hasn’t pitched in the Major Leagues since 2012). You can read my story about him HERE.

Shortly after speaking with Capps, I pivoted to an interview of a different sort.

img_2541That’s Princess,  a 10-year-old rescue pit bull who was adopted by Aces executive VP Andrew Daugherty prior to the season. She is now a ballpark celebrity, helping to dispel the stereotypes associated with her breed simply by existing. I wrote a story on Princess, and what she means to the team and community, HERE.

Princess is an absolute sweetheart.

img_2551An absolute sweetheart, I tell you.

After (reluctantly) taking my leave of Princess, myself and Aces director of marketing Audrey Hill walked around the ballpark for a bit. Taking a page out of the El Paso Chihuahuas playbook, the upper level hallways and suite interiors are decorated with the work of local artists. All of these pieces of art are for sale. Support local artists.
img_0287Artwork also enlivens the walls outside of the main entrance. The mural below, by Erik Burke, depicts Theodore Judah. Judah was the mastermind behind the Trans-Continental Railroad, which led to the creation of the city of Reno in 1868 after a railroad station was established there.

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The spray paint used for Judah’s eyes reflects through the windows, causing them to change color. Check the reflection:
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Judah’s steely, subtly shifting and not-at-all crazy gaze is fixated on a mural located directly across from him. This one is by Bryce “ABC Art Attack” Chisolm. I believe that’s Princess, there in the bottom left corner. Princess is absolute sweetheart.

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And speaking of art, this is one of the most fantastic pieces of restroom signage I saw all season.

img_2558Meanwhille, the sun was setting…

img_2560…and the ballgame was underway. The Aces were hosting the Salt Lake Bees, one of two teams in the Pacific Coast League I have yet to visit. (The other being the Colorado Springs Sky Sox.)

img_0292But, for now, I can only focus on the visits that have occurred. There’ll be much more from Reno in my next post (and the one after that).

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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