Tagged: Cedar Rapids Kernels 2015

Return to the Road: Record Stores and Rest Stops in the Midwest

The previous post in this “Return to the Road” blog saga covered the first half of my May 2015 trip through the Midwest. This post finishes the job, detailing my non-ballpark wanderings as I moved from Peoria to Cedar Rapids to Des Moines to Omaha.

midwest_final_61t5gp7uI arrived in Peoria on the night of May 25 and thus had some free time in the early afternoon before attending May 26’s Chiefs game. When I have a small window of free time in a city that I’ve never been to, I find a record store to visit. It’s just what I do, as I’m a creature of habit.

This is Ribbon Records, a hybrid record and vintage clothing shop which, according to this blog post, is in a building formerly occupied by Murray’s Department Store.

IMG_1292The hours of this place are kind of spotty, but luck was on my side. May 26 was a Wednesday.

ribbonRibbon Records had a lot of used records, as well as books, DVDs and random cultural ephemera.

IMG_1291At Ribbon Records, the stacks were alive. I ended up buying a small pile of albums, four of which I can recall immediately at this moment.

Richard Pryor: “Wanted” (he is a Peoria native, after all)

Hank Williams: “Sings ‘Kaw-liga’ and Other Humorous Songs”

Motley Crue: “Too Fast for Love”

Nancy Sinatra: “Movin’ with Nancy”

That Nancy Sinatra LP is produced by Lee Hazlewood, and if you ever see Nancy and Lee’s names together on the same album then do not think. Just buy!

The only other things I can tell you about my time in Peoria, outside of the ballpark, was that I ate lunch at Lorena’s….

IMG_1293…and, afterwards, got unreasonably excited when Eminem came on the radio.

IMG_1294On Thursday, May 27, I drove from Peoria, Illinois, to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Along the way, I picked up the necessary provisions.

It is obscene how much I enjoy pork cracklins.

IMG_1295I also bought “Warheads Sour Dippin’ Pucker Packs,” simply because I am always on the lookout for Fun Dip derivatives.

IMG_1290I’m not sure where the following photo was taken, but clearly it was a beautiful day in which to loiter at a rest stop.

IMG_1296A rest stop is one thing, the “World’s Largest Truckstop” is another. How could I not visit?

IMG_1299I can’t verify the “world’s largest” claim, but there is no doubt that this truck stop was gigantic. This picture doesn’t do it justice, as this place was too big to be encompassed by a single photo.

IMG_1301I strongly considered buying a T-shirt as a means to show off my vague awareness of nature and Native American culture.

IMG_1303Instead, I bought this four-CD set:

IMG_1304The cover art is inexcusably awful, but this is a well-curated and thoroughly enjoyable set of ’50s, ’60s and ’70s truck-drivin’ country songs. “Giddyup Go, Daddy.”

I spent the evening of May 27 with the Cedar Rapids Kernels, leaving the city early the next morning. Cedar Rapids, I hardly knew ye.

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IMG_1324May 28 was devoted to an Iowa Cubs matinee in Des Moines and then an Omaha Storm Chasers game in the evening. The next morning, before flying out of Omaha, I stopped at Almost Music. I somehow failed to take a photograph of this establishment, so here’s one from the Yelp page.

oAlmost Music, while small, was well-organized and featured a lot of off-the-beaten path kind of stuff for the heads and weirdos in your life. I picked up an R. Stevie Moore record (“Delicate Tension”) as well as a CD from local emcee Macey Yates (I had asked the guy at the counter to recommend an Omaha artist completely removed from the Saddle Creek universe).

And then? Then I went home. There are a lot of things I like about living in New York City, but you don’t get to see nearly enough bird’s nests. Thanks, Midwest, for the memories.

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On the Road: Tenderloins and (Gluten-Free) Buns in Cedar Rapids

To see all of my posts from my May 27, 2015 visit to the Cedar Rapids Kernels (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Midwest, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

This is Tim Mullin.

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May 27, 2015, was to be a very special day for Tim. For on May 27, 2015, he visited the Cedar Rapids Kernels and served as my Designated Eater (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits).

Tim, a Indianapolis native who now lives in Chicago, is very familiar with the Minor League scene. In addition to owning his own production company, Park Walk Productions, he the author of the (recommended) Baseball Road Trips: Midwest and the Great Lakes.

“I’m glad that I can share in the experience, because I’m typically alone at the ballpark,” said Tim, referring to a professional state of being that I’m familiar with. “I’m definitely qualified [to be the designated eater]. but maybe that’s not something to be proud of.”  

Tim wasted no time in getting down to business. When I met him on the concourse at the start of the game, he had already procured this pork tenderloin sandwich.

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The Pork Tenderloin is, quite literally, bigger than Tim’s head. It is bigger than just about any human’s head, unless that human happened to have a cranium of Bochyian proportions.

038Tim had procured this sandwich from a concourse kiosk that only sells pork tenderloin sandwiches. (Hey, it’s the Midwest). His had lemon pepper seasoning and a citrus BBQ sauce, along with “tons of pickles for resistance.”

When put up against Tim, the pork tenderloin offered little resistance.

“You’ve got to hit it at an angle,” he said. “It’s good to get a little bit of bread to accentuate the meat.”

Tim reported that Iowan pork tenderloin sandwiches are actually smaller than those found in his home state of Indiana. Also, he was gratified to learn that the Kernels’ version of this sandwich was not deep-fried. “I think that’s what skyrocketed Indiana into obesity,” said Tim. “The fried pork tenderloin sandwich.” As for the Kernels’ iteration of the Pork Tenderloin, Tim declared it to be “outstanding.”

“I’ve never seen a grilled one at the ballpark before,” he said. “They do it fresh here, take the whole patty and just throw it on the grill. Like, ‘Whoa, isn’t this supposed to be frozen?’ It’s great.”

However, as great as the Kernels’ pork tenderloin was, Tim said it wasn’t the best he’d ever had. He bestowed that honor upon the Bourbon Street Distillery in Indianapolis, instead.

“But I’m getting toward 50, so I have to phase [Pork Tenderloin Sandwiches] out of my life,” he said.

“Whoa, you don’t look 50,” I replied.

“I’m cherubic. I feel like I’m cheating on my wife right now. She watches out for my diet, and is constantly pulling me out of trouble.”

As for me, Ben’s Biz, I’m a lone wolf. I don’t have anyone to pull me out of trouble. I must look out for myself. But I didn’t even need to look out for myself while in Cedar Rapids, as the Kernels were already looking out for me via a substantial slate of gluten-free items on the concession menu.

Excuse the quality of this photograph. It’s the thought that counts.

044I opted for a gluten-free jumbo dog, which was delicious. The bun had a great consistency, melded well with the dog and (the ultimate test for a GF bun), did’t fall apart. (I need to look into what brand of bun this was. I somehow seemed to have neglected this crucial bit of information.) 045Who needs a designated eater?

But, don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about Tim. Our next stop was this riotous build-your-own burger and hot dog stand.

027Tim, after careful consideration of all the options, ordered what was, in essence a foot-long hot dog BLT.

048He looked rather professorial after putting on his glasses.

049“In Chicago it’s a mortal sin to put anything but mustard on a hot dog, but I’m tempted to try mayonnaise on this,” said Tim. “The dog’s fantastic, but this might be the saltiest thing I’ve ever eaten. It tastes like a Polish sausage, but girthier, if that’s a word. I’m gonna speed dial my cardiologist.”

And that’s where we say goodbye to Tim, as he eats his foot-long frankfurter BLT.

050As unhealthy as the evening may have been, Tim had no regrets.

“If Ben Hill said he needed somebody to eat for him, and at the end of the day you get thrown off a cliff, I’d do it,” said Tim. “It’s fun. It really is.”

Truer words have never been spoken.

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On the Road: All Shucks, No Jive in Cedar Rapids

To see all of my posts from my May 27, 2015 visit to the Cedar Rapids Kernels (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Midwest, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

When the previous post in this series had concluded, a ballgame had just begun in Cedar Rapids. Mr. Shucks, Kernels mascot extraordinaire, was overjoyed at the sight of players on the field. He always is.

042A fairly decent crowd had filed in, by Wednesday in May standards, to watch the Kernels take on the fearsome Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.

040I spent the first several innings of the game with one Tim Mullin, who served as my “designated eater.” We’ll get to Tim in a separate post, but here’s a sneak peak of who we’ll be dealing with.

037After parting ways with Mr. Mullin, I was led down to a clandestine field-level area with an interesting view of the action.

052While in this area, I came face to face with the immortal Mr. Shucks.

054Meeting Mr. Shucks provided me with the opportunity to work on my “I, too, am a mascot” face.

055But I wasn’t in this ballpark location for mascot shenanigans alone. Of course not. That would be ridiculous. For I was to be a contestant in the nightly “Fish Fling” contest.

051The Fish Fling is pretty simple. I, as the contestant, would hold the net, and the fish would then be “flung” in my general direction via a slingshot. I was told that if I caught three fish in a row I’d become the inaugural member of the Fish Fling Hall of Fame, and that no one had yet earned these aquatic accolades because this game is harder than it looks. The fish, when in the air, vacillate wildly like the fish out of water that they are. Their aerial path from slingshot to net is unpredictable at best.

My camera and phone were handed off to members of the Kernel promo team, who amused themselves accordingly.

057 Mr. Shucks gave me some last minute pointers.

060And then it was time to meet my Fish Fling destiny.

062This might sound ridiculous, but I really (really, really) wanted to get into the Fish Fling Hall of Fame and I took my participation in this contest very seriously.

The first shot….

065…was a success!

064And things only got more intense from there. Let’s go to the tape.

So close, and yet so far. When the contest began I could smell, however faintly, the sweet notes of success wafting through the air. But in the end, I was yet again overwhelmed with the pungent funk of failure. (Or maybe that was just the fish?)

A defeated man in a wrinkled shirt, making the best of a deeply disappointing situation.

067Alright, enough with the self-aggrandizement cloaked in a disingenuous shroud of humility. Let’s move on.

My next stop was the Cedar Rapids Kernels’ clubhouse, which is inhabited (literally) by legendary 71-year-old clubhouse manager Ron “Roady” Plein. Here’s Roady standing in front of his in-stadium apartment, which is located directly next to the laundry room.

072And here’s Roady’s bulletin board, at the end of the hallway, showcasing many of his career highlights.

068For the full-lowdown on Roady, please refer to my MiLB.com story. This story also includes the perspective of Roady’s “protege,” 56-year-old clubhouse managing rookie Eric Oliver.

075While I was in the home clubhouse, each of the two Kernels players who passed through immediately identified me as “The Fish Guy” and remarked how entertaining my on-field failure had been to those in the dugout. Guess that’s gotta count for something.

Anyhow, after exiting the clubhouse the first thing that I saw was the Tooth Fairy. Just another night in Minor League Baseball.

076Taking inspiration from the Tooth Fairy, I then fluttered up to the press box and did an interview with Kernels broadcaster Morgan Hawk. Welcome to the Hawk’s Nest.

IMG_1314While in the Hawk’s Nest, I came face to face with the “Roady” bobblehead. Roady’s on the right, while on the left is a bobblehead honoring long-time bat boy “Jon-Jon” Teig.

IMG_1315In the press box, the Kernels honor their Major League alumni in just about the coolest way I’ve ever seen: with framed jumbo-sized baseball cards.

078Fun fact: While playing in Cedar Rapids, Trevor Hoffman made the decision to convert from infielder to pitcher. That ended up working out pretty well for him.

079While I was in the press box area documenting these photos, someone (I don’t know who) popped out of the control room and said “You came all this way and dropped the third fish? C’mon!”

It was that kind of night. Nothing much left to do but make a groundbreaking and subversive joke.

Further hallway explorations revealed this “Kernels Quilt,” designed by JoAnn Nelson (wife of former general manager Doug Nelson) and stitched by Jeannie Ellers of Guttenberg, Iowa.

085Time, it does not stop when I’m the midst of these baseball wanderings. A game was going on and in fact had been going on the whole time.

087But not for long, as the Kernels won by a score of 7-3. After securing victory, they mocked the visiting Timber Rattlers by forming a snake-like handshake line back into the dugout.

091And then, just like that, everybody disappeared.

093That it was it for the evening.

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But, really, there’s no need to thank me. It was my pleasure.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: Prelude to a Perfect Game in Cedar Rapids

To see all of my posts from my May 27,  2015 visit to the Cedar Rapids Kernels (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Midwest, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

The penultimate stop of my second road trip of the season was Cedar Rapids, home of the Kernels. The Kernels play at an awkwardly-named facility by  the name of “Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium,” which opened in 2002 in the same location as the “old” Veterans Memorial Stadium (which opened in 1949). The ballpark is located just off of “Kurt Warner Way,” named in honor of the Cedar Rapids high school graduate turned Super Bowl MVP.

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I had never been to Cedar Rapids before — in fact, this was the last Midwest League team I had yet to visit — and I really didn’t have too much of an idea regarding what to expect. I guess, if anything, I was expecting a more sedate Midwest League atmosphere. More Clinton, say, than West Michigan. But the Kernels’ experience is fairly riotous — a blaring sound system, many theme night promos, and colorful, chaotic concourse signage.

007It was “Free Money Wednesday” on the evening that I visited, sponsored by a local credit union. It’s simple — upon entering the ballpark, fans are handed an envelope that contains anywhere from $1 (likely) to $100 (unlikely).

Here’s what my envelope contained:

The view from the concourse behind home plate featured blue sky aplenty. This was a recurring aspect of this particular trip. Maybe I got lucky as regards the time of year that I visited, but the early evening sky in these Iowa baseball locales was consistently beautiful.

008 As opposed to a simple “Road to the Show” wall, the concourse is bedecked with stars honoring alumni who have gone on to the Major Leagues. Like this guy, who you may have heard of.

010For the record, the Kernels are one of the only teams to offer “shots” as part of of the ballpark drink menu. I don’t think I’ve ever seen shots available on the concourse before, as these concentrated blasts of hard alcohol are usually only available in private group areas with a standalone bar. (And, no, I don’t know what a “Monster” is either.)

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And speaking of hard liquor: Prior to the game, I was delighted to hear an announcement to the effect of “Fans, while the pitcher is warming up in the bullpen, let us remind you to warm up with Cedar Ridge Iowa bourbon whisky.” If I hadn’t been on the job, I most definitely would have taken them up on this offer.

Some ballpark views, before the game began:

014 IMG_1306Beyond the ballpark lies an industrial facility of some kind. I neglected to find out what said facility is dedicated to the production of.

012In the midst of these idle pre-game wanderings, I came across the “Cedar Rapids Pro Baseball Hall of Fame.” It is located within an annex of the team store.

016As the above image illustrates, the Hall of Fame was not in a particularly photogenic mood on this evening.

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This didn’t come out either, but it was what I found to be the most interesting thing in the Hall of Fame: a 1940 letter from a local radio station requesting permission to broadcast Cedar Rapids Raiders games from within the ballpark. The belief at the time was that radio broadcasts would hurt ticket sales, so the team wouldn’t allow broadcaster Bert Puckett to call games from inside. Instead, Puckett called the action from a nearby rooftop.

020Here’s the team store, to which the Hall of Fame is attached.

024Broken bats will set you back a Jackson.

026I almost never buy items in team stores, as I have too much random swag as it is. But I made an exception on this evening, purchasing this shirt featuring the logos of all Midwest League teams. Why? Because, now that I was in Cedar Rapids, I had successfully visited all 16 Midwest League clubs. Career milestone!

025Did I mention that Kernels concourse signage is rather riotous? Check out these concession stand photos featuring piece-of-corn mascot Mr. Shucks.

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032At this point in the evening, the game was ready to begin. It’s funny how that happens.

034I think my favorite National Anthem performances are those sung by local youth choirs.

And with that it was time to, yes, play ball.

041When it comes to my Cedar Rapids experience, there are many more morsels, nuggets and, of course, Kernels to report. Stay tuned.

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About Wednesday Night: Cedar Rapids Kernels, May 27, 2015

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll be writing a short, on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon my return home, I’ll provide the multifaceted blog coverage that you have come to know and, perhaps, even love. Let’s get to it, lest it get to us! 

May 27, 2015: Veterans Memorial Stadium, home of the Cedar Rapids Kernels (Class A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins)

Opponent: Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, 6:35 p.m. game time

Veterans Memorial Stadium, from the outside:

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Veterans Memorial Stadium, from the inside: 

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Culinary Creation: Gluten-Free Jumbo Dog!

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At Random: Participating in the Fish Fling. It started out so well.

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Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: 

It’s All Over: I have now visited all 16 Midwest League ballparks. To celebrate, I bought this t-shirt.

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Next Up: 

5/28: Omaha Storm Chasers

5/29: HOME

5/30: Gonna see The Who.

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