Results tagged ‘ Appy League 2016 ’

On the Road: “Moose” Meat and Smashed Cupcakes in Burlington

To see all posts from my July 4 visit to the Burlington Royals, click HERE. To see all my posts from my June/July 2016 Appalachian League 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 mentioned in the previous post, the Burlington Royals have a concession stand. All teams do.

img_0165But the B-Royals concession scene is not limited to the above area. There is also a tent. This tent is called “Grill 1986,” a reference to the team’s first season of Appy League existence. The grill itself probably hasn’t been around since 1986. Most grills don’t live that long.

img_0184At Grill 1986 I made the acquaintance of one Justin Moody.

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Justin was, of course, my designated eater (the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). He works in Chapel Hill, North Carolina as a paralegeal, but grew up in southwestern Pennsylvania and is, as such, a huge Pirates fan. The first Minor League game he remembers attending was the Greenville, South Carolina-based Capital City Bombers (in 1992 or thereabouts), and he has since visited every park in the Carolinas. Justin’s a regular reader of this blog and said that he “thought it would be fun to join in on your journey, and lend my stomach to you.”

We began with the “Moose Taco”, an item that came into being because the girlfriend of B-Royals’ general manager Ryan Keur thought that was actually the name of Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas.

The “Moose Taco”, truth be told, is more like a “Moose Burrito.”

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Have at it, Justin.

Mikey Morrison, the B-Royals food and beverage overseer, told us that the contents of the Moose Taco “depends on the day.”

img_0188“Today it’s beef with cheese and jalapenos on the side,” he said. “Originally we would spell [the Moose Taco] like his name [Moustakas], but we made it the Moose Taco so that people would know what it is.”

“The pickled jalapenos give a nice little spice to it,” said Justin. “The meat has got a good smoky sear to it. I think it’s a burger patty that’s been cut up, but it’s really good. It eats pretty easily, the only thing in it is meat and cheese. You don’t get slowed down by lettuce or sour cream or whatever.”

Next up was Funnel Fries, marking the second time in as many days that one of my designated eaters consumed them (see also: Yankees, Pulaski).

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Justin cleared his mind and opened his mouth.

img_1987“[The funnel fries] came out nice and warm. Not too oily or greasy, which I really appreciate,” he said. “They’re good and crunchy, with just enough powdered sugar. Sweet, without trying to create a new cavity. Pretty darn good.”

Justin, if you’ve noticed, is pretty darn good at articulating his food thoughts.

The food was washed down with a Red Oak beer, brewed in nearby Whitsett, North Carolina. Morrison explained that the team began offering it at the ballpark in 2015 and that it “quickly became a best seller.”

img_0194Justin described it as a “good red or brown ale…crisp and refreshing on a hot day. It’s got a good malt flavor to it. It’s one of my favorites, actually.”

Another local favorite on offer at the ballpark are cupcakes courtesy of Burlington’s Main Street Cake Shoppe.

img_1992Justin’s wife, Meghan, was also at the ballgame. For most of my time with Justin, she elected to remain in her seat and keep score (not a bad decision at all). But Justin recruited her to come to our grill-side location to help him consume the cupcake.
img_2013Perhaps inevitably, Justin ended up getting his just desserts.

“It’s nice and soft,” said Justin. “I’d say it’s pretty much the perfect cupcake, though a lot of it ended up on my face.”

Indeed, it did.

img_0192Despite suffering this dessert-based indignity, Justin had nothing but good things to say about his designated eating experience.

“There’s nothing wild or outrageous,” he said, of the Burlington concession scene. “Just really good basic ballpark food, and I appreciate that they’re supporting local businesses.”

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: Patriotism and Presidential Candidates in Burlington

To see all posts from my July 4 visit to the Burlington Royals, click HERE. To see all my posts from my June/July 2016 Appalachian League 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).

My 10th and final stop on my all-encompassing Appy League trip was Burlington, North Carolina. Burlington is the home of the Royals, Kansas City’s Rookie-level affiliate. The Royals play at Burlington Athletic Stadium.

img_0162Believe it or not, Burlington Athletic Stadium was built in Danville, Virginia (where it was known as League Park). After the Danville Leafs ceased operation in the late 1950s, the ballpark was sold to a group of businessmen in Burlington. It was then disassembled, shipped 40 miles south via train, and reassembled in the spot where it stands today. I wrote an article about this, you can read it HERE.

img_0164I was in Burlington on a Monday. Usually when I visit teams on a Monday I hear all about how I should have planned my visit for some other day. But this was no ordinary Monday. It was July 4, a day to celebrate the birth of our wonderful, troubled, maddening nation. I was reminded that it was July 4 while walking toward the ballpark from the parking lot, as the fan in front of me was wearing a shirt featuring a silhouette of a man holding a gun.

“I’m sorry if my patriotism offends you,” it said at the top of the shirt. “Your lack of a spine offends me more,” it said on the bottom, below the picture of a man holding a gun.

It was surely patriots like this man who, in 1776, fought the British until Royal Concessions were made.

img_0165You may recall, as I may recall, that this was not the first time I visited the Burlington Royals. The year was 2011, and at that point in time the facility was most definitely in need of a few upgrades.

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2011 file photo

A few upgrades have indeed occurred.

“Come with me,” said B-Royals general manager Ryan Keur. “I’ll show you.”

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The visitor’s clubhouse showers, for example, have been relocated and renovated.

img_0167And…that’s the only example I have from the so-called bowels of the facility. But, believe me, many improvements have been made to Burlington Athletic Stadium over the last five years. The best improvements. It’s unbelievable. Like, these bleacher seats. They were added prior to the 2016 season, replacing bleacher seats that many people said were a disaster.  img_0169

Behind the bleachers was the “Inflatable Experience.”

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The Inflatable Experience might result in abrasions, vertigo and joint pain, but it will also result in a “whole lot of fun.” Go hard or go home.

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Meanwhile, at the bar, two sandals-wearing bearded gentlemen were attempting to ascertain if they had been separated at birth.

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Just around the corner, I ran into Bingo.

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Bingo is running for president, and he’s easily the best orange-hued candidate out there. Through a spokesperson, I found out that Bingo is a Democrat who seeks to strengthen relations with the Dominican Republic. He would appoint other mascots (except Danville’s Blooper!) to cabinet positions, and his slogan is “Si, Se Puede” (Yes, We Can!)

Bingo, you have my vote.

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The great thing about being Bingo? You never dance alone.

I then made my way onto the field, which is always a beautiful place to be.

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The grandstand retains its timeless charm.

img_1974The Royals were decked out in patriotic jerseys, and their patriotism didn’t offend me. I don’t know who that guy is on the far right, but Hubba Hubba!

img_1977The visiting Danville Braves, who played Burlington at home the night before, looked boring by comparison.

img_0179I threw out a ceremonial first pitch prior to the game, but I appear to lack any evidence of this fact. My notes say that my pitch was “way outside” “a perfect, searing strike” and that “number 41 caught it.”

The National Anthem was beautifully performed, but don’t take my word for it.

I spent the first several innings of the ballgame meeting with my designated eater, and that will be documented in the following post. I then witnessed a Baby Race from an up close and personal vantage point.

Soon thereafter, I took in the early evening Independence Day action from a rooftop.

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The view in both directions was pleasing.

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While on the roof, I visited the press box and spent an inning on the airwaves with Darren Zaslau.

It’s a long way down from the rooftop.

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Back at sea level, more or less, I made my way to the front row and spoke with B-Royals fan (and expert heckler) David Horne.

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In the above photo, Horne was taunting the bat boy as he made his way across the field.

“Go get it, boy! Hurry! That’s a good boy,” he shouted.

Horne has special taunts for all Appalachian League opponents, including “Stop the chop!”, “Smoke the Jays!” “Spank the Yanks”, “Hose the ‘Stros”, “Wet the Mets” and “Skin the Twins.”

Spending time with Horne reminded me of my 2011 Burlington visit, when fellow ballpark traveler Tug Haines recorded the following bit of classic Appy League heckling.

Danville won, 4-1, in a game that took just two hours and 12 minutes to play.

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The ballgame was followed by a concerted attempt to pelt this man with tennis balls.

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It was July 4th, after all. What could follow now but fireworks?

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The men’s room was not a pretty sight immediately following the game, probably because that macho t-shirt guy I’d seen on the way in had too much to drink and his delicate little tummy-wummy couldn’t handle it. Nonetheless, I made an attempt to document the team’s legendary (in some circles) alumni urinals.

Not pictured: Jim Thome

Not pictured: Jim Thome

While in the bathroom, I quickly wrote and disseminated a Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke.

This concluded my time in Burlington, as well as the Appy League in general.

Thanks, guys. I did!

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: Visiting Dan Daniel in Danville

To see all posts from my July 3 visit to the Danville Braves, click HERE. To see all my posts from my June/July 2016 Appalachian League 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).

The penultimate stop on my Appalachian League trip was Danville, Virginia, the land of the free and the home of the Rookie-level Braves. The Braves play at American Legion Post 325 Field, often referred to as “Legion Field” because who has time for a 12-syllable ballpark name?

Not me. I barely had time to take a photo before I crossed the street.

img_0110Legion Field is located within Dan Daniel Memorial Park, a city-owned recreation complex.

img_0108Despite the gray skies, a robust crowd was expected at Legion Field on this Sunday evening.

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For this was not just any Sunday evening. It was Independence Day Eve. David Cross, longtime D-Braves general manager, was dressed for the occasion.

img_1864Almost immediately upon arriving, I met with Danville Register-Bee writer Jordan Bondurant.

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Jordan interviewed me on the field prior to the game, which led to this story (and accompanying video). When we were done talking, I turned around and took a poorly composed photo.

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I also took note of that which was occurring atop the dugout.

Mascot Blooper! was decked in his patriotic best, and joined by special guest Captain America. A 5′ 6″, 145-pound Captain America.

img_0117The gentleman in the below photo was selling 50-50 raffle tickets; at the time this picture was taken he reported $301 “in the kitty.”

“Whoo-ee!” he then added, leading me to believe that $301 was a lot to have in the kitty before the game had even begun.

img_0119I spent several minutes pondering the slogan on this team bus, which was parked just outside the ballpark. “Experience!” and “Excellence!” are presented as separate positive traits, but I initially read it as a command to “Experience Excellence!”

img_0122But wait! On the back of the bus it simply says “Experience Excellence”. Is “Experience” now a verb? Or did they simply not have the room for an exclamation point?

img_0124The bus inspired me to experience excellence for myself, by gazing upon this wonderful wall art.

img_0123Blooper!, meanwhile, was gazing upon the field. The evening’s ballgame — between Danville and the visiting Burlington Royals — had begun.

img_0125Like the rest of us, the D-Braves bullpen could only sit back and relax. Chill out. Take in the atmosphere.

img_1872The ballpark was packed, the front office staff was busy, and I didn’t really know what to do with myself. I just wandered around, taking in the various views while trying not to obscure the views of others.

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img_0133I spent several innings with Brooke and Mary, that evening’s designated eaters. That has already been documented in a separate post.

img_0136I went on to spend some time (like, three minutes) in the press box. The chairs are yellow.

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As the evening wore on, the bleachers got fuller and fuller. The bleachers got fuller because fireworks were to follow.

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Tonight’s winning lottery numbers?

img_1889Winning numbers? Maybe. But winning team? No. Burlington won by a score of 3-2.

Many of the Braves players were gracious in defeat, high-fiving fans and signing autographs en route to the home clubhouse.

img_1892The game was followed by fireworks. If there’s one thing I can guarantee regarding my fireworks photos,  it’s that they will be awful.

img_1893But I can also guarantee that my Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke, disseminated nightly, will be awesome.

Goodnight from Danville, Virginia.

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: Funnel Fries and Chicken Fingers in Pulaski

To see all posts from my July 2 visit to the Pulaski Yankees, click HERE. To see all my posts from my June/July 2016 Appalachian League 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).

This man’s name is Thomas Panek. But you don’t need to call him by his full first name.

“Tom is fine,” he told me.

img_0091Tom was more than fine on this Saturday evening at Pulaski’s Calfee Park, as he had the duty and privilege of being my designated eater (the individual recruited to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits).

His ballpark dinner was obtained from this concession stand, where one’s chances of getting hit by a foul ball are decidedly slim.

img_0071This is what was obtained. (Not shown: a bag of peanuts with an accompanying brown paper bag for the shells).

img_0080There’s nothing too out-of-the-ordinary in the above photo, though it is an impressive array for a Rookie-level team operating out of an 81-year-old ballpark (albeit an 81-year-old ballpark that has been extensively renovated in recent years).

Before moving to an individual rundown of the items in question, let’s get to know Tom. Originally from Toledo, he now lives in Christiansburg, Virginia and works at Tetra, the Blacksburg, Virginia-based fish food and supply company. At Tetra, Tom makes algae-controlling pond blocks.

“I’m the only one making them, so if you see a Tetra pond block, that’s me,” he said. “I make them in a room, by myself. I love it. We sell a ton of them. I know I make a lot of them.”

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Made by Tom Panek

Tom moved to Virginia after meeting his wife, Beth, via an online backgammon game.

“We became friends, I visited her, we dated a little bit and the next thing you know we got married,” he said.

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Tom and Beth

“I was a Navy brat,” said Beth, who works in a domestic violence center. “So I said, ‘I’m not moving. If you’re interested in being with me, then come to me.'”

So here we are. All caught up and with Tom about to dig into some funnel cake fries.

img_0081Have at it, Tom.

“They’re good, but not as crunchy as I thought they’d be,” said Tom. “They’re different.”

We then moved on to the nachos.

img_0084“What can you say about nachos?” asked Tom, before proceeding to say something about them. “They’re basic and good. I like when the chips get soggy because the cheese inundates them completely.”

Beth was a big fan of the chicken fingers, saying that they were “really crunchy, with a thick crust and hot, tender chicken. All white meat. They didn’t need sauce. They were flavorful on their own.”

img_0082These, I believe, were called Yankee Fries. They differ from normal fries in that they have a potato chip-like shape as well as eternal dignity and honor of the “Yankees” name.

img_0083I can’t confirm that these Yankee fries were gluten-free, so I shouldn’t have eaten one. I just got caught up in the moment and, hey, we’ve all gotta die eventually.

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I would also like to note that I snapped a photo of the team’s collectible cups. This one’s for you, #cupdate aficionados.

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Finally, there was dessert. From the following array of ice cream flavors, Tom and Beth selected English Toffee and Classic Cherry.

img_0097Soon enough, check marks on a piece of paper became reality.

img_0096Tom declared the ice cream to be “very tasty, but kind of plain.” Beth said that she was surprised that the English toffee was “a syrup base rather than a topping, but it tastes good.”

Thanks, Tom and Beth, for surveying the Calfee Park culinary scene.

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***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: A Hit and Run and Hits and Runs in Pulaski

To see all posts from my July 2 visit to the Pulaski Yankees, click HERE. To see all my posts from my June/July 2016 Appalachian League 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 have now reached the second post in this Pulaski blog series; the ballgame is underway at Calfee Park. But don’t take my word for it, take it from the 1000-word equivalent that is this picture.

img_0101And here’s another picture, for good measure.

img_0104At one point, fairly early in the ballgame, I overheard a snippet of staff member conversation: “Somebody hit the visitor’s bus and drove off, so the police are down there.”

I went “down there” to investigate.

I don’t know if the parking lot bus-smasher was ever apprehended, but I do know that the Pirates were peeved.

I had seen the Bristol Pirates the previous week at their home ballpark of Boyce Cox Field. That game was an error and wild pitch-laden comeback victory over the Greeneville Astros. This game, however, was even wilder. At the end of five innings, the Yanks and the Pirates were knotted 10-10.

img_0105The above is a photo of the Calfee Park videoboard, which I believe is the first videoboard in the history of the Appalachian League. Kevin Cornelius, the man batting at the time, only played 13 games for Pulaski. He compiled a 1.326 OPS and was summarily promoted to Class A Advanced Tampa.

A recurring theme of my Appy League trip was being corrected on my various mispronunciations. It’s “Appa-Latch-in League”, not “Appa-lay-shin League”, for example. And when referring to the “Elizabethton Twins,” make sure to put the emphasis on “Beth.” “Pulaski” is another name I butchered, as I was pronouncing it “Pull-aski.”

Fortunately, Cole the batboy was there to set me straight. Watch and learn:

While the weather earlier in the day had been mediocre at best, it turned out to be a beautiful night for baseball in Pulaski.

img_1839Eventually, I made my way to the “Left VIP Tower.”

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While there, I interviewed David Hagan. Hagan and his partner, Larry Shelor, bought the team and the ballpark after the 2014 season. My article about the subsequent turnaround in the team’s fortunes can be found HERE.

img_1846I spoke with David for the better part of an hour, and still there was baseball left to be played. Bristol scored two in the sixth inning to take a 12-10 lead, but the Yankees countered with one in the seventh and two more in the eighth to go up 13-12.

Bristol answered back in the ninth. A sacrifice fly tied it up 13-13 and then Victor Fernandez hit a two-run double to open up a 15-13 lead for the visitors.

The Yankees were not about to go quietly. Isiah Gilliam hit a two-out double, and Cornelius followed with an RBI single. Then, this happened:

A line out to third to end the ballgame.

The 15-14 score conjured memories of the most painful baseball game I ever watched in my life. A tip of the cap to Pulaski media relations intern Jarah Wright, who kept a coherent scorecard throughout the madness.

img_1853After the game I paid a visit to the wall cat, a lawn ornament that has long resided just to the right of the right field foul pole. General manager Blair Hoke told me that the wall cat was removed during stadium renovations and, when it wasn’t immediately restored to its longtime home, “we got more hate mail about that than we did about anything else.”

img_1855Before making a feline for the exits, I wrote and disseminated a Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day.

Good night from a Calfee Park bathroom.

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: Old Becomes New in Pulaski

To see all posts from my July 2 visit to the Pulaski Yankees, click HERE. To see all my posts from my June/July 2016 Appalachian League 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).

After the 2014 season, Pulaski’s Appalachian League franchise was in dire straits, and I don’t mean Mark Knopfler’s best known musical project. The franchise had money for nothin’, including much-needed stadium improvements for 80-year-old Calfee Park. The Mariners severed their affiliation when their season ended, and the future looked bleak. Perhaps Pulaski, a longtime Appy League market, would no longer serve as a breeding ground for future sultans of swat.

A dramatic turnaround soon occurred, however, when two local businessmen bought the team and ballpark and spent over $4 million on stadium improvements (and opened a new team hotel, the Jackson Park Inn, in close proximity to the ballpark). The Yankees hopped on board as a new affiliate, and in each of the last two seasons Pulaski has led the league in attendance. For much more on this impressive revitalization, read my MiLB.com article.

I’m a VIP no matter what I do, so of course I had a VIP parking pass. While this pass netted me a good — nay, great — parking space, it also led me to enter the ballpark via this nondescript entrance.

img_0060Really, you’re better off entering via the fortress-like outfield entrance, which gives a much better sense of Calfee Park’s WPA-era roots. This ballpark, built in 1935, is one of the oldest in Minor League Baseball.

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Calfee Park is located in a residential area, so parking really is scarce. It also makes fireworks shows an impossibility. The team has its own trolley — originally the Lady Rebecca, rechristened the Yankee Express — which transports fans who had to park in more far-flung locations.

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Upon entering the stadium, I was greeted by mascot Calf-E.

img_0062I also ran into dedicated Minor League ballpark traveler Dean Packer, who I last crossed paths with at a West Virginia Black Bears game. He may not look it, but check out his wristband. Dean is over 21.

img_0063I also crossed paths with J.W. Gravely, who covers the Pulaski Yankees (and more) for 27outs.com.

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I also said hello to two of the Calfee Girls, a new addition to the ballpark’s entertainment landscape.
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Meeting the above individuals, combined with the hospitality of general manager Blair Hoke, immediately made Calfee Park seem like a welcoming place. Persistently rainy weather most certainly put a damper on the walk-up sales, but a decent crowd was filing in for some Saturday evening Appy League baseball.

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This Wall of Fame illustrates Calfee Park’s long baseball history, and also illustrates how often I am driven to distraction while putting these blog posts together. Did you know? Everett Fagan, the first player who competed at Calfee Park to make the Major Leagues, went 2-7 over 38 appearances with the Philadelphia Athletics. He’s no longer among the living.

img_0070The concession stand, one of many new additions to the ballpark, is located behind home plate. You will not get hit by a foul ball while waiting for your food.

img_0071David Hagan, the main man behind the Pulaski baseball rebirth, also owns the Shelor Motor Mile automobile dealership complex. That explains why the team store looks like this.

img_0072 Out on the field, the players were practicing their dance routines.

img_0073But who needs a ticket to the game when you can watch it from your front porch?

img_1836I have become accustomed to throwing out a first pitch before a game, but on this occasion I was asked to be the “Play Ball Kid.” Or, rather, “Play Ball Man.”

“Okay, Ben, what are the two magic words?” I was asked.

“Free beer!” yelled a fan, before I could respond.

I should have taken a cue from that fan, and repeated his answer into the microphone. Instead, I stuck to the script and yelled “Play Ball!” The next post will detail that which occurred while ball was being played.

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: A Winning Oscar Performance in Bluefield

To see all posts from my July 1 visit to the Bluefield Blue Jays, click HERE. To see all my posts from my June/July 2016 Appalachian League 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).

If you want to get some food at a Bluefield Blue Jays game — and who wouldn’t? — then this is the place to get it.

img_0012As for where to eat it, you’ve got options. One strong contender is this beer garden, which was added to the ballpark three years ago. Alcohol at Appalachian League games is, at most locales, a relatively recent phenomenon (two teams, Elizabethton and Princeton, still do not serve it).

img_0011On this pleasant Friday evening, I made the acquaintance of longtime Bluefield baseball supporter Oscar Miller. Oscar was my designated eater for the evening, tasked with consuming the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.

img_0026Oscar grew up in nearby Bramwell, West Virginia, where he played basketball as a member of his high school’s “Bramwell Millionaires” basketball team. That team is famed for its undefeated 1967 season, which marked the first campaign in which white and black players played together. Oscar told me that, the year previous, neither the all-white or all-black Millionaires team won a game.

As for why this team was called the “Millionaires” in the first place, Oscar explained that, at one point, Bramwell had more millionaires per capita than any town in the United States. This was due to the rapid rise of the coal industry.

Oscar is a veteran of the Vietnam war who went on to serve 11 years in the Air Force, five in the Navy and then, finally, three more “at home” while in the National Guard. After his military career he became what he calls a “jack of all trades,” working all sorts of jobs at locales around the country. At one point he even took care of an elephant.

“I was in Charleston, West Virginia, and I was looking for a job,” he said. “This guy said, ‘Well, do you want to go on the road?’ You just have to feed [the elephant], buy him grain, care for it. The hardest thing was water. You can’t imagine how much water an elephant can drink. Just about a barrel full. But you could put 18 kids on an elephant, and it was two minutes a ride. If you’ve got an elephant, then you’re making money.”

Through it all, Oscar has always been a baseball fan. He called the sport his “first love”, and went on to play right field and, occasionally, pitch as a youth player. His biggest baseball hero is Hank Aaron, and he is a huge fan of the Cleveland Indians. He’s a member of the Bluefield Blue Jays Booster Club, and attends just about every game at Bowen Field.

Tonight, Oscar’s ballpark meal would be a chili dog along with a “Big Whiskey Barbecue Sandwich,” a new offering courtesy of a partnership with Bluefield’s Big Whiskey BBQ.

img_0023Oscar began with the Big Whiskey, which he had never had before.

“I’m surprised, it’s got a bourbon-like taste to it,” said Oscar, whose favorite local barbecue meal is ribs at The Railyard. “There’s a little bit of honey to it and it’s hot. It’s spicy. I’d get it again.”

img_0024Next up was the Chili Dog, an item that Oscar has enjoyed on hundreds (thousands?) of occasions.

img_0025“The chili dogs are delicious, I get ’em every night. And usually a popcorn, water and Gatorade,” he said. “The meat is real beef, and that helps. I don’t want to eat a hot dog if there’s any suspicion that it’s pork. Just beef.”

During the intervals of our time together when his mouth wasn’t full, I enjoyed hearing about Oscar’s various talents and life experiences. He plays the melodica and, on occasion, writes poetry. He proudly showed me his poem, Your World, which originally appeared in the Bramwell Aristocrat newspaper.

img_0028As Oscar and I spoke, I sipped on a soda. And, yes, this soda was in a souvenir cup that I duly photographed for all you #Cupdate aficionados out there.

img_0030As our time together was winding down, Oscar bought a sizable amount of 50-50 raffle tickets.

“You want an arm’s length,” he said.

img_0029“I enjoyed talking to you,” said Oscar, as we parted ways. “[Bowen Field has] got a really good atmosphere, going on for quite some time. It’s always been a place I want to be. It’s a part of life here, I guess you could say.”

img_1789***

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On the Road: Singing, Shouting, Shelled and Shot Off in Bluefield

To see all posts from my July 1 visit to the Bluefield Blue Jays, click HERE. To see all my posts from my June/July 2016 Appalachian League 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).

Welcome to the second installment of this Bluefield Blue Jays blog series, which is part of my larger Appalachian League blog series, which is part of my larger “On the Road” series. Everything is connected.

As the previous post ended, the evening’s ballgame between the Blue Jays and visiting Kingsport Mets was set to commence.

Shortly after the game began, I visited ultra-vocal Bluefield superfan Henry “Double Out” Belcher. I had interviewed Henry prior to the ballgame, but now I wanted to see him in action. Henry did not disappoint. This was one of my most widely-viewed Vine posts of the season, and almost certainly the one I have watched the most times.

I misidentified Henry as “Double Loud” Belcher in the above tweet (as opposed to “Double Out”). But you can see why such a mistake would have been made. He is (more than) twice as loud as any other fan in the vicinity.

I also spent some time speaking with Bluefield baseball mainstay George McGonagle, who served as the team’s general manager through the 2007 season. He was named “King of Baseball” at the 2012 Winter Meetings, and currently holds the position of Bluefield’s team president. He’s a Minor League Baseball icon, and central to Bluefield’s long history of Appy League Baseball.

img_0034As nighttime crept in, the verdant scenery surrounding Bowen Field assumed a muted tone.

img_0035Kingsport reliever Kurtis Horne came on to pitch the fifth, inheriting the always-tricky bases loaded, no out situation.

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I had met Kurtis’ older brother, Kyle, and father, Rocky, earlier in the week. They traveled from Canada’s west coast to see Kurtis pitch, and were extremely invested in his performance. With this as the backdrop, I couldn’t help but root for Kurtis myself. But it wasn’t meant to be on this evening, as Kurtis allowed how three inherited runners to score and then five more of his own. He was relieved with two outs in the frame, his ERA having skyrocketed into the double digits.

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My second-hand sorrow soon gave way to first-hand ecstasy, as I participated in a between-inning “Price is Right”-style contest. Here, mascot Birdie Jay displays the item I would be attempting to discern the price of.

img_0040My discernment, aided by fan feedback, was correct. I suddenly found myself the recipient of Suddenly Salad as well as a gift card to the local Grant’s supermarket chain. (Like a modern-day Robin Hood, I redistributed my winnings in the greater Bluefield area before leaving the region.)

img_0041 My next stop was the cheap seats. But, really, all the seats are cheap in the Appy League. That is one of the circuit’s many charms.

img_1793With the game winding down, general manager Jeff Gray and I paid a visit to the clubhouse. As mentioned in the previous post, the decorative skills of manager Dennis Holmberg make this a particularly unique environment.

img_1794The walls are lined with flags representing the myriad countries from which Holmberg’s charges have hailed.

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img_1797Still other walls are adorned with movie posters signed by members of each season’s team, as well as pop culture-referencing oddities such as this.

img_1801This display commemorates Holmberg’s most impressive accomplishment during his previous managerial stint, with the Auburn Doubledays.

img_1802From the clubhouse, Jeff and I made our way out of the ballpark. The postgame fireworks show was about to begin, and I had been invited to join the pyro crew.

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img_0049I wish I had more to write about the experience, but it all happened so fast and safety gloves precluded note-taking. What I can say is that everyone was very friendly and welcoming (particularly the woman in the first photo, who I believe was named Susan), and that it was was exhilarating and terrifying to be tasked with lighting a fuse. I’ve seen dozens, if not hundreds, of fireworks shows over the last decade and it was a nice change of pace to experience it from the “inside.”

Never had I experienced fireworks so intimately and intensely.

I am now the proud owner of a “Pyro Crew” t-shirt.

img_5829Once the smoke had cleared…
img_1809…the lights went back on, revealing a field strewn with pyro detritus.

img_1811The Blue Jays would be on the road the next day, so clean-up wasn’t an immediate concern. What was a more immediate concern, however, is that I hadn’t yet written and disseminated my Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day.

In the Blue Jays’ office, Jeff turned to the internet for inspiration.

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just-one-liners.com

But it was no use. This was a battle that I knew I would have to face by myself, so I went to the parking lot and meditated until, finally, the following joke emerged from the darkness.

Goodnight, Bluefield.

***

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On the Road: State Lines and Sight Lines in Bluefield

To see all posts from my July 1 visit to the Bluefield Blue Jays, click HERE. To see all my posts from my June/July 2016 Appalachian League 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).

The Bluefield Blue Jays play at Bowen Field. I drove to Bowen Field from my hotel in Bluefield, West Virginia. Along the way I passed a “Welcome to Virginia” sign, a “Welcome to West Virginia” sign and, finally, a sign welcoming me to “Bluefield, Virginia.” By the time I arrived at the ballpark I was in a state, all right. A state of confusion!

img_0002Bowen Field is in Virginia, as it turns out. But it’s located within a public park encompassing both states, and this park is operated by the city of Bluefield, West Virginia. So, as with many things in life: It’s complicated.

My initial reaction to Bowen Field was a simple one, however: I love this place. It’s an appealingly rustic throwback, surrounded by natural beauty.

img_0003Prior to the game I went on a little walking tour with Blue Jays general manager Jeff Gray. Along the way we met some interesting people. Vlad, Jr., on the right, is all of 17 years old. Jesus Severino, who turned 19 just before the Appy League season began, is an old man in comparison.

Dennis Holmberg, the Blue Jays manager, is a baseball lifer. He was drafted by the Montreal Expos in 1969 and, embarked on a coaching career immediately upon retiring as a player in 1977. 2016 marked his fifth in Bluefield, and in that time he has really put his personal stamp on the place. His office, and the clubhouses, are adorned with dozens of photos, flags, souvenirs, memorabilia, tchotkes and ephemera. It’s a like a MAD magazine drawing come to life, the professional baseball equivalent of the cover of Weird Al’s eponymous debutI’ll return to the land of Holmberg — Holmbergia? — in the next post.

img_0006It was now approximately 30 minutes before game time, and the grandstand seats were slowly filling in.

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Bowen Field dates back to 1939, but the original structure was largely destroyed by fire in 1975 (I was told by one fan that the fire was set by fans in nearby Princeton, who were “upset that they didn’t have a team.”) The orange seats are cast-offs from the Angels’ Anaheim Stadium.

This plaque commemorates the opening of the “new” Bowen Field in 1975. The “highly successful” relationship with Baltimore ended up running through the 2010 season, at which point it was the longest continuous affiliation in Minor League Baseball. After Baltimore decided to forgo having an Appy League team, the Blue Jays swooped. Bowen Field remains with the birds.

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On this evening, the visitor’s dugout would be occupied by the Kingsport Mets.

img_0010The view from the grandstand:

img_0013While in the stands I interviewed Bluefield super-fan Henry “Double Out” Belcher. He had arrived for this seven o’clock game early in the afternoon, simply because there’s no place he’d rather be.

img_0015My story on Henry can be found HERE. Click on the link to learn why he’s “the loudest man in Bluefield.” We’ll see him again in the next post.

Further wanderings led me to Kyle and Rocky Horne, the older brother and father of Kingsport pitcher Kurtis Horne. I had met Rocky and Kyle the previous week in Kingsport, writing an article about how they made the long trip from the west coast of Canada to watch him pitch.

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I think I might have thrown out a first pitch prior to the ballgame, but a couple of months have passed and my brain is addled and I cannot say for certain. At any rate, I was on the field just prior to the start of the game.

As is customary, the players were accompanied to their positions by local youth.

img_0020Patriotic rituals were then duly observed. 
img_1785There is still more to come from Bluefield, but I’ll cover that in the next post. Like the morning sun said to the grass, “I now bid you ‘a dew.'”

***

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On the Road: A Talking Rooster and Tossing Chickens in Princeton

To see all posts from my June 30 visit to the Princeton Rays, click HERE. To see all my posts from my June/July 2016 Appalachian League 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).

H.P. Hunnicutt Field, home of the Princeton Rays, was my first stop in the Appalachian League’s East Division. Princeton, population 6500, is located in southern West Virginia and borders the state of Virginia.

img_1738H.P. Hunnicutt Field is owned by the local school district, and the Rays share the facility with the the middle and high school baseball teams (a football field is located adjacent.). It opened in 1988 and has hosted an Appy League team throughout the entirety of its existence. The ongoing affiliation with Tampa Bay began in 1996.

Renovated in 1999, H.P. Hunnicutt Field lacks the timeless charm of other Appy League locales (Bristol, Elizabethton, Bluefield and Burlington spring immediately to mind). Most of the seating is comprised of uncovered metal bleachers, and the general architectural style is chain link chic.

img_0232 img_0235The press box can only accomodate one radio broadcast. Visiting game-callers need to improvise.

The entire seating area of H.P Hunnicutt Field is situated 10 feet above the ground, though un-elevated vantage points can be found in this humble picnic and party area.
img_0237The picnic area is bordered by the Roscoe’s Grill concession stand, which also has a window facing out onto the main concourse. There is no beer sold at Hunnicutt Field, as it is owned by the local board of education and the local board of education can not sanction such a thing on its premises.

img_0240The “Roscoe” in question is the Rays’ rooster mascot, who has his own t-shirt in the “Ray’s Cove” team store.

img_0242I met Roscoe out on the concourse, and, boy oh boy, was I in for a surprise.

img_1739Roscoe talks!

The above video was included in my MiLB.com article on Roscoe. In the story, you can also read more about Roscoe’s side gig as a local wrestler. The Cuban Assassin is no match for Roscoe!

princeton_roscoe_a_6rqfzy9k_8hlbaf3nAfter talking with Roscoe, I was not particularly surprised to find that a ballgame was ready to begin. The Rays were hosting the Greeneville Astros.

img_0247Play ball!

img_1743As ball was played, I continued my wanderings. At one point I briefly sat in front of two older gentleman, who were engaged in a small game discussion that had nothing to do with the action on the field.

“I used to split ’em, skin ’em and pull those guts out,” said one man of his rabbit dressing technique.

“I know a guy, he’d sneak into the city park and kill all them squirrels,” replied his companion.

I’m not sure how to segue from that conversational snippet.

Are these the best seats in the house?

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img_0249The Rays, owned as a corporation by the Princeton Baseball Association, are a small operation. Dedicated volunteers, such as the late Lefty Guard, have been crucial to the franchise’s continued existence.

img_0250“Lefty Guard helped set everything up, him and Junior Billings,” said Princeton general manager Nick Carey. “They were the go-to guys those first few years. Junior Billings still buys Lefty Guard’s tickets each year, and leaves the seat open.”

As for Nick Carey, I did not envy his position. 2016 was his first season as general manager; he is only 23 and the only full-time employee on staff. His predecessor, Jim Holland, had been with the team for longer than Nick and been alive.

Nick pretty much has to do it all. For example, he and Caitlyn, his lone intern, handled all the between-inning contests during the game. In this particular contest, beanbags were thrown at an eye.

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Here, Nick emcees a “Price is Right”-style contest. A bottle of barbecue sauce was the prize.

img_1748After awarding the young contestant the bottle of barbecue sauce, Roscoe told me that “I gave that kid Rooster suntan lotion.”

A few innings later, I was given the opportunity to participate in a rubber chicken tossing contest. I did not disappoint.

For my efforts I won a Bojangles gift pack, which I didn’t open until later that night.

I watched the final inning of the ballgame from the first base bleachers, appreciating the immensity of the Wendy’s sign all the while.

img_1753The Rays defeated Greeneville, 7-1, their fifth of what would be 38 victories in 2016.

Goodnight, Princeton, and good night Nick Carey. Congrats on making it through your first season.

img_1763I’ll let Roscoe have the last word.

***

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