Tagged: Appy League 2016

On the Road: Loving the Bologna in Elizabethton

To see all posts from my June 29 visit to the Elizabethton Twins, 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 befits a Rookie-level team working out of a small, city-owned ballpark, the Elizabethton Twins offer a fairly limited range of concessions. But what they do, they do well. I learned this during the evening I spent at the team’s Joe O’Brien Field, where the food offerings are served out of “Miss Jane’s Hardball Cafe.”

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I did not sample the food offerings myself, of course. That task fell to Mr. Daniel Buck, my designated eater for the evening. It would be Daniel’s task to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.

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Daniel, who lives in Elizabethton, is a truck driver. He runs the same route each day, working from 4:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., driving from Elizabethton to Roanoke, Virginia and back. He delivers tires while putting significant wear on his own, traveling approximately 1850 miles a week. His route includes stops in locales such as Marion, Chilihowie and Saltville (which, as he pointed out, was “the salt capital of the Confederacy“). Daniel was at the ballgame with his wife, Jennifer, and two and a half-month old grandbaby, Nariah. Yes, grandbaby. (Daniel is the same age as me, and he has a granddaughter. For me to attain grandfather status, I’d have to have some kids first.)

Food and beverage director Bruce Miller presented Daniel with two E-Twins specialties: the Fried Crown Bologna sandwich ($3) and a bratwrust ($4).

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Daniel began with the bologna.

Bruce, who’s been the food and beverage director for seven years, explained that he prioritizes “good stuff and good products” and that the bologna is no exception.

“I get it from a meat company, you can’t buy it like this,” he said, while declining to name the company in question. “They make it for me, cuts that are as big as a hamburger. There’s five or six ounces of bolognan[in each sandwich], and I put a little butter on the bread.”

Daniel was an instantaneous fan of the bologna.

“Well, it was gone fast,” he said, after polishing it off in a matter of minutes. “It wasn’t overcooked, and cut thick. I can’t make ’em like that. I’m breaking out in a sweat, it was so good. That was a Carter County steak, right there.”

Next up was the bratwurst.

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“It’s what you’d expect from a good ol’ ballpark bratwurst,” said Daniel. “It’s got a kick to it. I still love the bologna a little better and that’s saying something.”

img_0203This was all washed down with eastern Tennessee’s “energy drink” of choice, Dr. Enuf. If you’re in the region, you really owe it to yourself to get a Dr. Enuf. It’s got less distribution than Cheerwine, but beloved by those in the know.

img_1708Daniel wasn’t quite done yet. Dessert was deep-fried Oreos topped with vanilla ice cream.

img_0207Are you jealous?

As the above six seconds of video documentation makes clear, Daniel was a fan of the Oreos. More broadly, he was a big fan of all that was served to him during his time in this Joe O’Brien Field “Sky Box.”

“The food’s awesome,” is how he summed it up.

For that, we have Bruce to thank. I caught up with him later in the day and took this picture:

img_1725Thanks, Bruce! And thanks, Daniel.

***

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On the Road: Free Admission in Elizabethton

To see all posts from my June 29 visit to the Elizabethton Twins, 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 previously, I spent the first five nights of my Appalachian League trip in Johnson City (the home of the Cardinals). The other four teams in the league’s West Division are all located nearby, but no team is located closer to Johnson City than the Elizabethton (pronounced Eliza-BETH-ton) Twins. Joe O’Brien Field was a mere 10 miles from my hotel, but I still had some trouble finding it

I needed to make a left hand turn onto the downward-sloping road seen in the above photo, but missed it on my first three attempts. It’s a rather unobtrusive road.

img_0182And Joe O’Brien Field is a rather unobtrusive ballpark, gently enveloped by towering hillside trees. The Watauga River runs behind the third base side.

img_0183I arrived just as the gates opened, and was immediately confused. Fans were just walking in; no one was checking tickets. But as it turned out, this was not only the home opener but also one of the team’s “Free Admission Nights.” The Twins, run by Elizabethton’s parks and recreation department, are a community-oriented team and do their best to make a night at the ballpark an affordable outing.

I’m not sure that any team has ticket prices lower than this:

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Upon arriving I spent some time with Twins general manager Mike Mains, whose role with the team is an extension of his position as Elizabethton’s parks and recreations director. My conversations with him formed the basis of this MiLB.com article, which explains more about the team and how it operates. The game at which I was in attendance marked the start of Elizabethon’s 43rd consecutive season as a Minnesota affiliate. There’s lots of history here at Joe O’Brien Field, and it’s a beautiful place to spend an evening.
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img_1702Even though it was Opening Day, the pregame festivities were minimal. As part of a league-wide initiative, pitcher Austin Tribby was interviewed on the dangers of dip. “Don’t even consider it,” said Tribby.

Both teams lined up for on-field introductions prior to the game. In the below photo, Twins manager Ray Smith is trotting out toward home plate. Smith is an Elizabethton icon, as 2016 marked his 30th season on the Twins’ coaching staff. Not only that, but he began his playing career in Elizabethton as a member of the 1977 squad.

img_0195Once both teams were identified and accounted for, it was time for a rousing rendition of our National Anthem.

Soon after the ballgame began, I met with my designated eater. Following standard operating procedure, that will be featured in a separate post. The designated eating took place in the stadium “Skybox,” which offers as elevated a vantage point as one is going to get in an Appy League ballpark. The mountains in the background are part of the Appalachian chain.

img_0204While in the skybox I interviewed Dave McQueen, known throughout the ballpark as “Big Dave.”

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Big Dave has worked with the team for decades, primarily as head of groundskeeping and clubhouse operations. I didn’t quite have the time to put together a story on Big Dave before leaving on my next trip, but he’s a very energetic and colorful individual. Here’s a snippet of the interview. There’s more where that came from, so get in touch if you want to hear more.

And here’s another Sky Box view. There are banners throughout the seating area honoring prominent Elizabethton alumni, such as Kirby Puckett. Puckett made his debut as a member of the 1982 team, hitting a robust .382.

img_0211The Sky Box stairs are not for the faint of heart.

img_0213Back on level ground, I commenced to wandering.

img_0214On the concourse, the atmosphere was sedate.

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While there, I enjoyed this bit of wall art.

img_0217The whole atmosphere was sedate, really. The season had just started, and the fans didn’t seem to be in peak form. They are known for bringing cowbells to the games (Elizabethton is dairy country), and I had been warned that the cowbells can be maddening, but on this Wednesday evening they were used sparingly.

The response to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, meanwhile, was virtually non-existent. Maybe this Dr. John-style rendition just doesn’t resonate in Tennessee.

Regardless of the energy in the park — or lack thereof — I remained smitten with the Joe O’Brien Field experience.

After a brief stop in the press box…

img_0222…I exited the stadium at the third base side and spent some quiet moments along the banks of the Watauga.

The view looking back toward the ballpark:

img_1722The Elizabethton batters looked good in the on-deck circle.

img_1723But they couldn’t get much going at the plate. Final score: Pulaski, 6 Elizabethton 1

img_0226Before heading on my way I wrote and disseminated a Groundbreak and Subversive Ballpark Joke.

After that, I headed back into the wilderness. Good night from Elizabethton.

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***

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On the Road: Simple, Cheap and Nostalgic in Bristol

To see all posts from my June 28 visit to the Bristol Pirates, 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 one would expect from a Rookie-level ballpark operated by volunteers, the concession stand offerings at Bristol’s Boyce Cox Field are fairly limited. The “Fred and Brenda Scott” concession stand is located below the press box, facing outwards toward the field, and staffed by members of community organizations who receive a portion of the evening’s proceeds.

img_0156The view from the concession stand is a good one.

img_0157On this evening my designated eater was a man by the name of Todd Hare. (“Just like a rabbit,” he said of his last name.) It would be his job to consume the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.

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Todd, an Episcopalian priest and father of four, has been in the ministry for the past 21 years. For the past three years he has been based in Johnson City, working with the congregation of the Holy Trinity Church. This has been a homecoming of sorts for Todd, as he grew up in Bristol. And, growing up in Bristol, he was a regular attendee of ballgames at Boyce Cox Field.

“I would come to a lot of games as a kid, when they were [a Detroit Tigers affiliate],” said Todd. “I saw guys like Lance Parrish, Jim Leyland, Darryl Strawberry and Terry Pendleton. I grew up just beyond left field and used to sit behind the fence. These games are sentimental for me.”

Todd and I spent a whopping $6 at the concession stand, which netted us a Frito pie-like “Crow’s Nest” ($3), Chili Dog ($2) and a bottled water ($1). We then convened to the beer garden located down the third base line, a relatively new addition to Boyce Cox Field (which, like most Appy League ballparks, didn’t start selling beer until recently).

img_0160Todd began with the chili dog.

“The chili here comes from the meat market that’s been here since my childhood,” said Todd. “Malcolm’s Meat Market. I grew up knowing the family that owned it, played baseball with their kids in Little League.”

He continued, “It’s spicy, has a little heat but not overpowering. It’s very, very similar to the hot dogs served at the Little League right by the field here, and same as the [adjacent] stadium where I played high school football. It’s a very familiar hot dog.”

Todd finishes up his "very familiar" chili dog.

Todd finishes up his “very familiar” chili dog.

My attempts to find out why the “Crow’s Nest” was named as such were unsuccessful. But it’s a great $3 snack — Fritos topped with salsa, sour cream, shredded cheese, chili and jalapenos.

img_0162“I haven’t had one here, but I’m a really big fan,” said Todd. “There’s just the right amount of cheese and chili.”

Of course, Todd’s brief culinary excursion was highlighted by being within one of his all-time favorite environments.

img_0164“I love the simplicity of a hot dog, mustard and relish, or a chili dog,” he said. “There’s something about hot dogs, peanuts, Cracker Jacks and cold beer or a Coca-Cola that takes me back to childhood and all the smells associated with growing up around this park. It’s real nostalgic.”

***

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On the Road: Pirates in Bristol

To see all posts from my June 28 visit to the Bristol Pirates, 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).

Continuing on with this Bristol Pirates narrative, it was now game time.

Boyce Cox Field is about as no-frills as Minor League stadiums get. Reserved seats are $8, while a bleacher ticket will run you $5. Many fans bring chairs and blankets and watch from the grassy hill behind home plate. It all has the feel of an amateur environment, and I don’t mean that in a disparaging way. Just that it’s so small and low-key.

Shortly after the game began, I ran into a real-life pirate.

img_1679This self-styled buccaneer is a man by the name of Dewayne Woods, who recently retired from the army. He said that he came to a few games last year and told himself, “Hey, I want to be a mascot.”

“I wanted to give back,” Dewayne told me. “I give out gold coins and candy from the concession stand.”

Dewayne has previous experience as a Civil War re-enactor, and parts of his pirate outfit were repurposed from his Civil War regalia. The gun, meanwhile, was obtained from a Pirates of the Caribbean gift shop at Disney World.

Later in the ballgame, after meeting with my designated eater, I “Mose”yed  on in to the press box.

img_0165I spent a couple of innings on the radio with Pirates broadcasters Dillon Hutton (left) and Rob Christian.

img_0166After that, I was back to my wandering ways.  img_0168

img_1688As the game wore on, the action on the field got more and more ridiculous. The visiting Greeneville Astros scored six runs over the first two innings, but Bristol tied the game with six of their own in the bottom of the seventh. These six runs scored via a bases-loaded walk, wild pitch, ground out, wild pitch, wild pitch and wild pitch.

This, right here, is Appalachian League Baseball at its finest.

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And it just got finer. Greeneville took the lead in the eighth after Spencer Johnson was hit by a pitch, advanced to third after a pair of wild pitches and scored on an error by the center fielder. Not to be outdone, the Pirates scored two in the bottom of the eighth, with both runs scoring on an error by the center fielder.

My notes also indicate that, in the top of the eighth, there was a delay due to a pitcher’s two-tone glove (allegedly) obscuring the ball.

Final score: Bristol 8, Greeneville 7. The Pirates won despite collecting just two RBIs on the evening, with the rest of the runs coming via errors and wild pitches.

So maybe the baseball wasn’t of the highest caliber, but it was a beautiful summer evening and the people were friendly and the ballpark was charming. I was totally smitten with the environment and would therefore recommend a trip to Boyce Cox Field should you be able to do so.

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As in Kingsport two days previously, I left the ballpark without having written and disseminated a Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke. Back at the hotel that night, I did my best to rectify the situation.

Sometimes, I’m not sure if my best is good enough.

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: Baseball in its Purest Form in Bristol

To see all posts from my June 28 visit to the Bristol Pirates, 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).

Before visiting the Appy League, quite a few people got in touch with me via email and social media to extol the circuit’s rustic, old-fashioned, down-to-earth locales. “This is baseball how it used to be,” was a common refrain.

If “how it used to be” = “simplicity, access and intimacy” then the Bristol Pirates’ home of Boyce Cox Field is a prime example of such. The Pirates are run as a non-profit, and don’t have a single full-time employee. For nearly everyone involved with this franchise, working at the ballpark is a labor of love.

Boyce Cox Field is located in Virginia, although there is also a “sister city” of Bristol, Tennessee (the state line runs down the middle of downtown’s State Street).

img_0131The tree-lined pathway seen above sets the tone for the kind of environment that exists here. From the entrance to the sloping grass berm to the wood-paneled press box, Boyce Cox Field felt like less like a professional ballpark and more like a well-maintained summer camp athletics area. But this is nonetheless a professional environment. Boyce Cox Field has hosted Appalachian League baseball since 1969, and Minor League Baseball in the region dates back further than that.

This plaque, located beyond a rightward bend in the aforementioned pathway, commemorates what is certainly the most famous occurrence in Bristol’s Minor League Baseball history: Ron Necciai’s 27-strikeout nine-inning no-hitter.

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Necciai, who appeared at a Bristol game in 2012 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of his accomplishment, made his Major League debut with Pittsburgh during the 1952 season but didn’t pitch in the bigs at any point thereafter.

Lucas Hobbs, a local lawyer who moonlights as Bristol’s VP of marketing, was my pregame tour guide. He noted that there is a typo in the plaque: Necciai struck out 27 Welch Miners. Not Welsh Miners. Though they may have been Welsh, for all I know.

Beyond the plaque is the press box.

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The press box is more than a press box, as it also comprises office and storage area. As I entered, the game-day staff were in preparation mode.

img_0138Meanwhile, to the left, stood the foreboding entrance to the GM’s office.

img_0137Behind the door was Mahlon Luttrell, who let me in even though I did not know the secret knock.

img_0139I spoke with Mahlon and Lucas for a good 20 minutes about the Pirates and how they operate, which formed the basis for this story. To learn more about Bristol Baseball, just ignore my shadow and check out this banner.

img_0149One important element of the Bristol experience that is not illuminated in the signage is this: Boyce Cox Field has urinal troughs! Urinal troughs are a dying breed, and I will document their existence whenever I am able to do so.

img_1667As scenic as the men’s rest room was, it was even more scenic on the field.

img_1669While on the field I snapped a pic of Lucas and his daughter, Savannah, who was serving as the Pirates’ bat girl on this beautiful Tuesday evening.

img_1670I also got the chance to witness Dingbat’s dance moves.

This season, Dingbat was joined by a new addition to the mascot line-up: Captain Buc.

img_1675As Dingbat looked on, I took the mound for a ceremonial first pitch and, of course, threw a perfect strike.

img_0151Afterwards, my perfect form was used a teaching moment for these impressionable Rookie-level players. “Do what Ben’s Biz does” was, I’m sure, the lesson being imparted here.

img_0152Prior to the National Anthem, a local chaplain led the fans and players in a brief prayer. I had not experienced this pregame element before.

img_0155Once the religious and patriotic rituals had concluded, there was nothing left to do but Play Ball.

There will, of course, be more where this came from. Stay tuned for additional dispatched from Bristol, Virginia.

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: Raining Champs in Johnson City

To see all posts from my June 27 visit to the Johnson City Cardinals, 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 2016 trip through the Appalachian League was greatly aided and abetted by the Johnson City Cardinals. General manager Tyler Parsons and exquisitely bearded assistant general manager Zac Clark had politely harassed me for years to come visit and when I finally committed to doing so they helped devise my league-wide itinerary. I spent the first five nights of the trip in Johnson City, which served as my home base as I visited the five teams in the Appy League’s West Division.

So, after all that, the lone rainout I experienced throughout the entirety of my 2016 travels occurred in Johnson City. Of course it did.

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Thwarted

That’s not to say I don’t have anything to write about. I always have something to write about, which is probably why I’m always writing. So let’s start at the beginning.

I spent the daytime portion of June 27 with Jenna Moore of the Johnson City Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. Our wanderings — documented HERE — included a brief daytime stop at the Cardinals’ TVA Credit Union Ballpark. The weather, at this mid-afternoon juncture, was beautiful.

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img_1616The ballpark, which underwent over $400,000 in renovations prior to the season, was looking pretty spiffy on this Monday afternoon. The below photo shows the view from the new party deck and beer garden.

img_1621But this is still the Appy League, after all, where less-than-luxe accommodations have long been the norm. This is the mascot dressing room, where Jay Cee unwinds between antics.

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By comparison, the recently-remodeled umpire dressing room looks like a five-star hotel.
img_1625Back outside, I was thrilled to see a large outfield billboard advertising Dr. Enuf (a regional “energy drink” I had been introduced to just several hours before.) I was also thrilled to see such a big cloud, which I named “Puff Daddy” in my mind before deciding that it’s really stupid to name clouds and that I should never do so again.

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By the time I returned to the ballpark several hours later, for my regularly scheduled visit, Puff Daddy had dissipated and the sky had turned a more foreboding gray hue. For those hoping to watch baseball on this Monday evening, it was not an azure-ing sight.

Nonetheless, a healthy crowd of optimistic early arrivers were on hand to partake in a variety of “Buck Monday” concession specials.

img_0120I, as always, was doing my best to ignore the foreboding sense of doom.

Mascot selfie time! What’s up, Jay Cee?! You should probably get that tongue laceration checked out when you get the chance.
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The foreboding sense of doom soon gave way to doom.

img_1646Most of the fans sought solace in the bleachers.

img_1649I, being a very important figure, sought solace in the press box. Exquisitely-bearded assistant general manager Zac Clark was there to welcome me.

At 6:40 the rains became truly torrential and cries of “Unplug everything!” were heard in the press box. The evening’s ballgame was not going to be played.

Though there would be no ballgame, I was in no rush to go anywhere because I didn’t have anywhere to go. While still in the press box, I interviewed 18-year-old Cardinals broadcaster Joey Liberatore. My story on Joey and his accelerated career path can be found HERE.

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By the time I was done talking to Joey, the rain had totally stopped and an idyllic calm had taken over the ballpark. The scene was serene.

img_0128But won’t somebody think of the pretzels?

img_1651The previous afternoon in Kingsport, I had failed to write and disseminate my Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day.

I was determined not to let this happen again, so it did not happen again. With an assist from exquisitely-bearded assistant general manager Zac Clark, a new comedy masterwork was soon created.

However disappointing it may have been at the time, the team recovered nicely from this Monday evening “Ben’s Biz in the ballpark” rainout. Buoyed by ballpark improvements, new ownership and a motivated front office staff, the Cardinals set an all-time attendance record in 2016 (51,855). Oh, and they won the Appalachian League championship.

Enuf’s enuf, guys!

img_1653Enuff Z’Nuff!

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: Sun-scorched in Kingsport

To see all posts from my June 26 visit to the Kingsport Mets, 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).

Requisite pregame wanderings out of the way, it was time for a ballgame. The Kingsport Mets were hosting the Pulaski Yankees on this incendiary Sunday afternoon, meaning that it was the Appy League equivalent of New York City’s twice-annual “Subway Series.”

Pulaski and Kingsport are located approximately 115 miles from one another. Shockingly, there is no subterranean transportation between the two locales.

So, yeah, I guess I’ll just call it the I-81 Series. Or, as Kingsport assistant general manager Josh Lawson suggested, “Subway Series South.”

Not that I was really watching the game, anyway. Since no one volunteered to be my Designated Eater in Kingsport (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine my gluten-free diet prohibits), Lawson took the job.

Here is what we had to choose from:

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And here is what was chosen:

IMG_0080Take it away, Josh:

This so-called “Taco in a Helmet” consists of chips, chili, shredded cheese, lettuce, jalapenos and salsa. Josh explained that it replaced the “Mets Pie” on the concession, menu, the “Mets Pie” being Fritos in a hot dog container covered with cheese and chili and the like.

“[The Taco in Helmet] is real filling, and you get to take home a collectible souvenir also,” he said. “But it took three years before people stopped ordering the Mets Pie. This is the new Mets Pie.”

Josh then had an opportunity to enjoy a Buffalo Chicken Sandwich.

IMG_0082“[General manager] Brian [Paupeck] was saying that no one would want to get their hands dirty with wings,” said Josh. “So why not take our chicken sandwich and make it a Buffalo chicken sandwich? It now outsells our grilled chicken.”

That concluded Josh’s designated eating cameo, but I’m not done writing about the Kingsport Mets concession scene.

Taking a cue from their sister club in St. Lucie, the Mets offer charcoal-grilled pretzels.

IMG_0079They also offers bags of house-made pork rinds, which I (greatly) enjoyed later in the afternoon.

IMG_1569With Josh’s assistance, I crashed a group outing taking place on the first base-side picnic pavilion. There, I received a helping of some primo pulled pork and a side of baked beans.

IMG_0089Also phenomenal was the “Beach Hut Shaved Ice Truck.”

IMG_0087I got “Tiger’s Blood” shaved ice, which contains real tiger’s blood (I’m lion).

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“Awesome!” it says in my notes, regarding the taste of Tiger’s Blood. (Don’t be discouraged, young writers. It took me years of practice to be able to describe things so vividly and creatively).

I enjoyed the shaved ice while sitting at the Beer Porch, which featured Mets baseball cards under (plexi)glass. The Beer Porch offers alcoholic beverages from Kingsport-based Sleepy Owl Brewery and Gypsy Cidery.

Josh and I also swung by the team store, where this T-shirt currently reigns as the No. 1 selling piece of apparel.

IMG_0085Despite the flurry of information and imagery I have just hit you with, this was an inordinately sleepy day at the ballpark. It was a sun-baked afternoon and, as you can see, Hunter Wright Stadium doesn’t exactly offer much in the way of shade.

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IMG_0094I got some relief from the heat in the press box, which isn’t directly located behind home plate. It’s shaded to the left, and at a bit of an angle.

IMG_0097The press box offers a view of the dog park located beyond the fence in left field and, in the distance, Bays Mountain. At one point in the afternoon, I was told that wolves are raised on the mountain, and that roadkill deer are fed to the wolves. I don’t remember who told me this, but it’s in my notes so it has to be true.

Back on the concourse, I spoke with Rocky and Kyle Horne, the father and older brother of Kingsport pitcher Kurtis Horne. Rocky and Kyle had traveled some 2,800 miles from their home on Canada’s west coast to see Kurtis pitch. My story on them can be read HERE.

horneThrough it all, the sun just kept beating down.

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Pulaski went on to win this particular iteration of the “Subway South Series,” by a score of 11-5. The Yankee players celebrated by putting their bodies in close proximity to one another.

IMG_0107By the time the ballgame ended, I wasn’t feeling too well. The heat, combined with that day’s stadium diet of pulled pork and pork rinds, had left me feeling light-headed and nauseous. I spent over a half an hour in the parking lot after the game, desperately trying to come up with a Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke, but I just couldn’t do it. My brain, and body, were shot.

This is me, defeated, completely and totally out of jokes.

IMG_1575Oh, well. I’ll get ’em next time.

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: Meeting the Mets in Kingsport

To see all posts from my June 26 visit to the Kingsport Mets, 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).

I began my Appalachian League road trip in Greeneville, Tennessee. The following day I had a new destination, and that destination was some 48 miles northeast of Greeneville: Hunter Wright Stadium, home of the Kingsport Mets. It was a Sunday afternoon, and my overriding memory was that it was hot. But it was also beautiful.

IMG_0069I was greeted outside of the stadium by Kingsport Mets general manager Brian Paupeck, who assumed that position prior to the 2013 season. He came to Kingsport after spending 10 seasons with the St. Lucie Mets, who are both operated by the parent New York Mets. While in St. Lucie, Paupeck apparently learned a thing or two about office decoration from St. Lucie general manager Traer Van Allen.

Here’s Van Allen’s bobblehead collection:

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And here’s Paupeck’s, in Kingsport:

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IMG_0070A rock quarry is located directly behind Hunter Wright Stadium, and Paupeck reported that controlled explosions at the quarry (which occur two-three times a week) cause the the bobbleheads in his office to start bobbling. It is my hope that one day Paupeck videos this phenomenon and then disseminates it via the internet.

Kingsport has been the Mets’ Rookie-level affiliate since 1980. A veritable who’s-who of future New York Metropolitans have started their careers there, including six who were on the 2015 pennant-winning squad. This season, Kingsport’s Opening Day roster included seven of the team’s top 10 prospects. Surely, the team’s Wall of Fame (or, more accurately, Chain Link Fence Hall of Fame) will continue to grow.

IMG_0072I’m not sure if Slider is on the K-Mets’ Wall of Fame, but he should be. Slider’s bone-wielding skills are top-notch.

IMG_0073Slider had some measure of relief while standing in the so-called “Breezeway”, which leads to the seating bowl. Otherwise, this is a ballpark that provides very little relief from the heat (hence, the team plays the vast majority of its games at night).

IMG_0074Hunter Wright Stadium, owned by the city of Kingsport, opened in 1995. The city leases it to the Kingsport Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, who utilize it as a key piece in their tourism-promoting arsenal. A variety of high school and collegiate tournaments are held there annually, because baseball tournaments lead to greater hotel occupancy rates and greater hotel occupancy rates lead, in turn, to more hotel bed tax revenue.

The construction of Hunter Wright Stadium was more difficult than expected, due to the rocky terrain upon which it was built. A good portion of the budget went toward leveling the land, and the ballpark was built in sections. Therefore it has a bit of a Frankenstein’s Monster quality, with perhaps the most noticeable quirk being the placement of the press box.

The press box isn’t behind home plate, though it is in the general vicinity.  IMG_1564

The field was a nice place to be, outside of, you know, how hot it was. The players were mingling about, which is what players tend to do as game time becomes imminent. They are expert minglers.

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The K-Mets, like many teams, have a Field of Dreams program in which local youth teams take the field along with the players. Or, in this case, a not-so-local youth team. The orange-shirted individuals in the below photo came from Cumberland, Kentucky, located approximately 60 miles away.

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Pregame introductions gave way, as they often do, to the National Anthem. This particular iteration was a prerecorded organ version. Classic.

Once the anthem had concluded, a ballgame broke out. Sorry to be so predictable, but baseball is predictable. I do my best with the materials that I am given.

IMG_0091There will, of course, be more material to come from Kingsport. I’ll do my best with it.

***

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On the Road: Classics with a Twist in Greeneville

To see all posts from my June 25 visit to the Greeneville Astros, 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 man in the below photo, his name is Curt Collins.

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Curt is a lawyer based in Greeneville, Tennessee. He has his own law firm, specializing in Family Law, Criminal Law and, as his website points out, “more.” But Curt is a man of many talents, not all of them relegated to the courtroom. During the evening I spent at the Greeneville Astros’ home of Pioneer Park, Curt served as my designated eater (you know, the individual recruited to consume the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits).

You had probably already guessed that Curt was my designated eater, given that, in the above photo, he is posing in front of a formidable spread. He and I (and his wife, Aly, who will appear later) were in a Pioneer Park suite, and Curt is no stranger to such environs. He and Aly attend approximately half of the team’s games, and Curt advertises with the club via a recurring between-inning skit featuring the hapless “Convict Carl.” Fans are advised that if they, like Convict Carl, make a bad decision then Curt is the man to call for legal representation.

But anyway, let’s get back to that spread. The Astros’ concessions are handled by Sodexo, which also provides food service for Tusculum College (Pioneer Park is located on the Tusculum campus). In the below photo there are two (2) of each of the following items: The High Heat Burger, Astro Dog, Corn Dog, and Nachos Supreme (in a team-logo helmet).

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We began with the High Heat Burger. Said heat is brought via Cajun seasoning, pepper jack cheese and the team’s “High Heat” sauce (it’s mayo-based, with some hot peppers in the mix).

IMG_0033Have at it, Curt.

Curt said that the High Heat “had a good flavor to it” but that “you have to like spicy.” Curt likes spicy. He gave it an eight, on what I assume was a 10-point scale.

Next up was the Astro Dog: a hot dog wrapped in brown sugar-crusted bacon and topped with chipotle mayo, tomato, fried onions and a dill pickle spear.

IMG_0034Curt’s love for the Astro Dog is as boundless as the great outdoors. He had to move out of the suite in order to fully appreciate it.

IMG_0035“This is my favorite,” said Curt. “It’s such a good mix of flavors. The fried onions make a difference, and you can’t go wrong with bacon on a hot dog. The brown sugar gives it a little sweetness, and the brown sugar mixed with the chipotle mayo is such a unique combination. That’s what really makes it. The weirdest part is the tomato. I don’t think I’d miss them.”

The next item on the docket was a corn dog.

IMG_0037“It’s a classic corn dog,” said Curt. “I don’t want to say anything negative, but I guess you need the truth: It’s not hand-dipped. It tastes like something I could make in a microwave.”

Another item to consume necessitated another location change. Here, Curt poses with his Nachos Supreme in front of the concession stand from which it can be obtained.

IMG_0043These nachos are made “supreme” via the addition of cheese, chili, sour cream, tomatoes and jalapenos. Curt said that while they were “loaded nachos, for sure,” they were “not loaded down with too much chili to where the chips get soggy. I’m getting to the bottom and they’re all still crispy.”

When we returned to the suite, Astros general manager David Lane was waiting for us with even more helmet-based cuisine.

IMG_0044These ice cream sundaes included both vanilla and chocolate ice cream and were topped with berries, nuts, chocolate syrup and whipped cream. For dessert, Curt was joined by his wife, Aly.

IMG_0049Kurt and Aly met on July 4th, 2012, but didn’t start dating until a year later. They were married this past May. Aly works for the local Boys and Girls Club, which regularly partners with the Astros on community-minded events.

The newlyweds enjoyed their sundaes.

IMG_0051Kurt declared dessert to be “fantastic,” and not just because he got to share it with his beautiful bride.

“It’s like the ultimate sundae,” he said.

And thus concluded this latest adventure in designated eating.

“I don’t want to keep using the word ‘classic’, but that’s exactly what they’ve got here,” said Curt. “Good, classic food.”

***

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On the Road: A Dedicated Fan Base in Greeneville

To see all posts from my June 25 visit to the Greeneville Astros, 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).

Pregame wanderings complete, it was now time to take in a ballgame. (For me, taking in a ballgame simply translates to “more wandering.”)

IMG_1540David Lane, the longtime general manager of the Astros, introduced me to some of the team’s most dedicated fans throughout the game. First I met Arthur and Edith Ricker, who just so happened to be celebrating their 69th wedding anniversary. Arthur delighted in sharing his World War II memories, with Edith often jumping in to steer the conversation back on course. As that impish gleam in her eyes amply illustrates, she was quick with a smile and had a great sense of humor.

“Want me to stick out my tongue?” said Edith, just before this picture was taken.
IMG_0028Later on I met Steve Alexander, part of Greenville’s most celebrated baseball family. Most prominent among them was Steve’s father, Dale, who won the 1932 American League batting title as a member of the Boston Red Sox.

IMG_0053 Finally, there were sisters Norma, Betty and Joyce of nearby Mosheim, Tennessee. The sisters agree that the best player they ever saw play for Greeneville was Jose Altuve, whom Betty called “a little fireball.”

IMG_0055For more on the individuals mentioned above, read my MiLB.com story.

Anyhow, there was still a ballgame going on. There always is.

IMG_0029It was “Olympic Night” at the ballpark, which manifested itself primarily via the staff — and the mascot — wearing over-the-top patriotic t-shirts (I guess all t-shirts are “over-the-top,” come to think of it). Gizmo, the cousin of Houston mascot Orbit, loves America.

IMG_0056If baseball doesn’t work out, maybe Garcia, Pal, Johnson, Castro, Franco, Fernandez and Sanbria (?) can form the country’s most awkwardly-named law firm.

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Hitting coach Cesar Cedeno, on the left, was honored this season with a bobblehead/leg featuring his preferred dugout pose. Two undulating appendages for the price of one!

As the game wore on, I spent a couple of innings in the grassy area down the third base line that serves as a promo crew staging area.

IMG_0061Some of the things I saw back there can’t be unseen.

Nah, just kidding, all of the food is alive and well.

IMG_1548The Astros ended up losing the ballgame, 5-3, to the Johnson City Cardinals. My only note involving the game itself was that Greeneville shortstop Jonathan Arauz (who was born just before I entered my sophomore year of college) hit a home run over the right field fence and that a “retrieval effort ensued.” Fascinating stuff, as always.

After the game, I spent some time admiring Pioneer Park’s Greeneville baseball history exhibit.

IMG_0065Once I returned to the field of play, a rather desultory round of Launch-A-Ball was just wrapping up.

IMG_0067That meant it was time for me to wrap things up as well. All that was left to do was write and disseminate my nightly Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke.

***

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