Yesterday’s culinary compendium included copious coverage of ballpark food and regional cuisine, focusing on trips I made to Arizona, California, Ohio and Indiana.
The journey continues today, with a heavy emphasis on what may have been my favorite road trip of 2011: the Carolinas. It all started at Joseph P. Riley ballpark, the home of the Charleston RiverDogs. This is a team that has provided me with plenty of food-based news items through the years (Homewreckers! Pickle Dogs! Pig On A Stick!), and I was excited to finally make my first visit.
The team was ready for me.
Not the best photo, I know, but hopefully indicative of the RiverDogs’ bountiful array of creative food options. Oh, and a Philly Cheesesteak Brat eventually made an appearance.
Here’s a better view of the top-loaded “Kitchen Sink Nachos,” which are served in a pizza box.
But I focused my efforts primarily on the Pickle Dog, making sure to grip the pickle firmly from the rear so that the hot dog would not slip out.
The next day I drove to Myrtle Beach (home of both the Pelicans and the Mermen), and en route I stopped for lunch at “Hog Heaven BBQ.” Apparently, what passes for heaven in the mind of a pig is an afterlife of eternal cannibalization.
Dismayed and confused by this concept, I instead opted for some crab.
I was admonished by various quarters for ordering seafood at a BBQ joint, and I understand those criticisms. But here in NYC a platter such as the above is (relatively) hard to come by, and I have no regrets. None!
I stayed with the seafood theme at that night’s Pelicans game, ordering up some fried clams.
The following afternoon, en route to Kinston, I went to a BBQ joint and actually ordered some BBQ. Bart’s was the name.
At Grainger Stadium that evening, I followed the recommendation of GM Ben Jones and ordered a Philly Cheese Steak, North Carolina style. “Magnifique!” is what I imagine a French fan of Carolina League baseball would say upon biting into the following:
Are there any French fans of Minor League Baseball out there? What a rare subset of fans that must be.
Much less rare is the sight of a Bojangles fried chicken joint in the state of North Carolina. As I was making my way from Kinston to Durham, I patronized the following establishment.
Being a man of perpetual movement, at that night’s Durham Bulls game I ordered a Doritos-brand “Walking Taco.”
That’s nacho typical taco, but it provided all the sustenance I needed until the following morning’s stop at Biscuitville.
Less than two hours later, I patronized another regional fast food chain: Cookout. I’ve since heard from many Cookout aficionados, all of whom insisted that milkshakes should be purchased. Duly noted, but this time around I ended up with a Cheerwine float.
One of the highlights of the following day’s travels was lunch at Zack’s Hot Dogs, a Burlington, N.C. institution.
Since I’m always a proponent of a balanced and healthy diet, the hot dog lunch was followed by a bologna burger at that evening’s Danville Braves game.
The last stop on the Carolina excursion was Winston-Salem. A pre-game meal was obtained a Bibb’s BBQ, located a proverbial hop, skip, and jump away from BB&T Ballpark (domicile of the Dash). And what a meal it was:
That’s about all she wrote from the Carolinas; but fortunately I was able to squeeze one more trip into the 2011 campaign: Maryland, home of the crab pretzel!
More specifically, the home of the cheese and crustacean-laden snack seen above was Aberdeen’s Ripken Stadium. But perhaps an even more anomalous ballpark treat is that which can be found at Hagerstown’s Municipal Stadium: pickled beet eggs!
The Hagerstown Suns experienced some drama this past season, when a light pole fell onto the field during a storm. This is where the light pole used to stand…or is it? Maybe this mark was made by a huge pickled egg!
Or maybe a huge Krumpe’s donut used to lie on that spot! After the game I went to nearby Krumpe’s Do-Nuts (open 8 p.m. to 2 a.m.) and picked up a few.
My trip, as well as my season of traveling, ended the next day in Delmarva. Needless to say, I did not leave Arthur W. Perdue Stadium on an empty stomach.
That was dinner, consisting of a “Chessie Dog” (half-pound frank with cheese, onions, peppers), Crab Dip (with three bread dipping sticks), and a Scrapple sandwich. But there’s always room for dessert, especially when it’s as appealing as the concoction known as “Sherman’s Gelati.”
And that, as they say, was that. I hope you enjoyed, or at least tolerated, this trip down recent memory lane. It provided me yet another opportunity to revive a season which is in actuality dead as the proverbial doornail, and for that I am grateful.
As mentioned in the previous post on the blog, I spent this past weekend at the 2011 Minor League Baseball Promotional Seminar in Myrtle Beach.
The above photo encapsulates why it can be difficult to cover these sort of events: pictures of hotel conference rooms trade show mingling just aren’t very exciting. Nonetheless, it’s important for me to socialize with those in the industry, and to get a gauge on promotional techniques and concepts that may be popular in 2012 and beyond.
One of the topics touched upon is the Lake Elsinore Storm’s Grounds Crew Gorilla, winner of the 2011 “Golden Bobblehead” for “best in-game promotion.” The Gorilla made a cameo appearance at the seminar, attacking attendees with pool noodles and overturning the speaker’s table. My best attempt to document this chaotic moment:
Certainly, the Grounds Crew Gorilla was one of the highlights of my May visit to a Lake Elsinore Storm game.
Meanwhile, at the Trade Show, Trampolines USA was selling their “Pony Hops.” These things swept through the Minor League landscape last season, and I imagine that there will be even more teams using them in 2012.
The roster of the mighty Skillville Group was on display as well, bathed in beatific blue light.
But I think this mascot was my favorite part of the trade show, a costumed creature available to the highest bidder during Saturday night’s silent auction.
At the time I took this picture, the Danville Braves were the highest (and only) bidder. I’ll have to check to see if they won, because I’d love to see this dazed and confused character at an Appalachian League baseball game.
On Sunday night, there was an industry outing to Ripken Baseball’s Myrtle Beach Baseball complex. My lens was dirty in the following photo, but I like the effect.
This marks the second time this month I was at a Ripken Baseball youth complex, with my first outing taking place in conjunction with an Aberdeen IronBirds game.
According to my hastily-scribbled notes (the only kind of notes I’ve ever made), the Myrtle Beach complex is a 10-month a year operation and devoted almost exclusively to youth, high school and collegiate baseball tournaments. There are three regulation-sized diamonds and five youth size, all on synthetic turf.
Here’s Griffith Field, where an estimated 2500 games have been played over the past six years.
All synthetic everything, even the “dirt.”
A few more shots of the surroundings, some of them taken from the back of a moving golf cart.
From there the festivities moved on to Myrtle Beach’s BB&T Coastal Ballpark, home of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. I had visited there in late July, but was happy to be back.
Upon entering, we were greeted with some very welcome sights.
1. Popcorn and boiled peanuts!
2. Beer, as poured through the Bottoms Up beer dispenser (yes, they fill from the bottom. Magnets are key). Needless to say this was good marketing, using this product in full view of curious (and endlessly thirsty) industry decision-makers.
You may recall that when I was in Myrtle Beach I interviewed noted groundskeeper Chris “Butter” Ball, during which he observed that he keeps “extreme banker’s hours” in the offseason.
Well, this offseason might be a little different:
A buffet-style meal was set up in the right field picnic area, while down the left field line attendees could play corn hole and test their arms at the speed pitch.
As is too often the case, the demands of attending and covering an event such as the seminar leaves little time for exploring the area. But I’d like to close with this shot, as it features a business that has found a way to carry on amidst Myrtle Beach’s proliferation of neon-hued dining palaces and soul-destroying theme bars.
Harry’s Breakfast Pancakes — RIP Harry!
Next time I got to Myrtle Beach, this will be first on my list of places to check out.
The seventh and final stop on my most recent road trip was the hyphenated community of Winston-Salem, home of the hyphen-referencing “Dash.” The club is in its second season in the western downtown environs of BB&T Ballpark, after previously competing as the “Warthogs” in the far more rustic Ernie Shore Ballpark.
When it comes to stadium footprints, BB&T Ballpark is the Godzilla of the Carolina League. Featuring a stately (and somewhat imposing) brick exterior, 360-degree concourse, downtown views, and location right off of bustling business route 40, this is a stadium that makes its presence known.
Following standard operating procedure, I began my time at the stadium by conducting a couple of player interviews. This time around it was Garrett Johnson and Austin Yount. Despite being a 6’10” left-hander, Garrett is not related to Randy Johnson. Austin, meanwhile, is Robin Yount’s nephew.
While waiting for the players to finish their pre-game warm-ups, I got a few shots of the on-field scene.
That’s Yount seen above — but I did not need special media access to take that particular photo. I was actually in the Dugout Suite seating area at the time, where a railing is all that separates the players and the fans.
A few more shots taken from that section:
But here I am getting ahead of myself already.
My time in the Dugout Suites was part of an extensive ballpark tour, provided by Dash “Creative Services Manager” Caleb Pardick (who does a great job with the team’s Twitter feed — a lot of teams could learn from it). I met with Pardick in his control room lair, populated by a technically-inclided array of button pushers, announcement makers, and volume modulators.
Mr. Kaze is blocking the soundboard operator in the above picture, but next to him is the P.A. announcer, line score operator (in charge of updating runs, hits, errors), scoreboard graphic operator, and stats updater (these may not be the offical job titles). To the far right is the director, coordinating it all.
The control room is like the press box, in that it is located on the concourse and fully visible to fans. In fact, the press box also includes a group seating area fittingly called the “Press Box Suite.” I’d never seen such a thing.
Another private (but far more expansive) group seating area is the Blue Rhino Backyard, which provides intimate field access as well as a separate concession area.
As for concessions — I ended up forgoing them at this particular game. My routine got thrown off that day, and I had a very late lunch (at the excellent Bib’s BBQ, more on that in a future post). Several of the stands offered three points of sale as a way to ease concourse overcrowding.
Out past right-center field is the team store, a stopgap structure that will eventually be replaced by the six-story “One Ballpark Center” (which will also house the team’s front offices, among other entities).
Moving toward center, there’s a kid’s area featuring a carousel brought over from Ernie Shore Field.
In left, there’s an outfield bar area open to all fans.
The left field scoreboard seen above is truly impressive, a nice complement to the main attraction.
That’s not a poorly-framed photo of Mr. Ciolli. The player introductions featured video accompaniment, and he was just about to move into the center of the screen and initiate determined eye contact with the assembled masses. (The introduction music was AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck”, with the words “Winston (pause) Salem” in place of the original’s dramatic repetition of “Thunder.”)
Said masses were soon told to rise and remove their hats.
With the game underway, Pardick and I visited the bustling “Womble Carlyle Club” (named after a local law firm). It was pretty nice up here, with an all-you-can-eat buffet and nice views of the field via a multi-tiered outdoor seating area.
The high-quality scoreboard made it easy to document between-inning promotions, no matter where in the stadium I happened to be.
The best part of the above “robot cam” was the PA announcer’s robot-voiced improvisations. Over the above shot he intoned “Not bad for a human supervising children.”
The ballpark tour was followed by an inning or two in which I sat with team president Geoff Lassiter, and some of that conversation is chronicled HERE. After that I did a final lap around the facility as the sun slowly set on Winston-Salem.
My final task was to find loyal blog reader Matt Campbell (Possum187 in the comments), who had informed me that he and his family would be in attendance at the game. After failing to locate him in my wanderings, I asked the PA announcer to please page “Matt ‘The Possum’ Campbell. He did so enthusiastically.
And that did the trick. Matt soon appeared at the guest services booth, as instructed, and I spent the final two innings with him and his lovely family.
And from that vantage point, I saw the home team emerge victorious.
Followed by a post-game launch-a-ball — including outfield targets!
Afterwards Bolt signed autographs…
until he collapsed from exhaustion.
I’m fairly close to exhaustion myself these days, but let the blogging continue! The next day my flight back to NYC wasn’t until 5, and the Dash happened to be playing a noon game. So out into the blazing heat I went, this time in “fan mode” (I even paid for parking).
Sweet tea and boiled peanuts — the breakfast of champions!
The best player fact I have ever seen on a scoreboard:
I watched this game with Rex and Coco Doane, NYC residents and veteran Minor League travelers deep into their own Carolinas-based road trip.
I say it constantly, but I very much enjoy corresponding with and meeting readers. This can be a lonely job, and often it’s easy to assume that “no one is reading”, but going on the road serves as proof positive that this is indeed not the case. It’s a tremendously gratifying feeling.
It was also gratifying that this particular ballgame moved along at a fairly rapid clip, as I was sweating profusely in our prime dugout seats.
And with dugout seats comes dugout dancing.
One member of this promo crew, “The Shelbinator,” was inundated with autograph requests from the largely school-age crowd.
As the Shelbinator basked in her celebrity, the Dash disposed of the visiting Kinston Indians. And not even the scorching heat could keep them from getting quite intimate during the post-game high-fives.
After the game I was exhausted — it had been a LONG eight days on the road.
In need of a shower, shave, and haircut…bloated and sunburnt…wearing a t-shirt given to me by a team (Charleston RiverDogs’ Big Lebowski-themed “The Dog Abides”)….clearly it was time to go home.
I then proceeded to get in the car and drive out out of the parking lot, and it wasn’t until turning onto Route 40 that I realized that the driver’s side rear door was open. This was my dumbest road trip driving error since Lakewood, and a clear reminder that it was time for me to get back to NYC. You can’t make a dumb driving error if you don’t have a car.
There’ll be more “supplementary content” to come from the Carolinas, when time allows. Consider it the dessert to the main course which is now, mercifully, complete. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned…