Tagged: Charleston RiverDogs 2016

On the Road: Haute Cuisine and Lowcountry Gourmet in Charleston

The Charleston RiverDogs are known for many things, and chief among those many things is food. As longtime readers of this blog are aware, I have made an annual habit of dedicating a preseason post to their new concession options. And when I last visited Charleston in 2011, food and beverage overseer Jon Schumacher laid out a spread that included a Pimento Pickle Burger, a RiverDog, a Pig on a Stick corn dog, Kitchen Sink Nachos and, of course, the Pickle Dog.

charleston20-20pickledogThe Pickle Dog is no longer offered at RiverDogs game, sadly. And, even more sadly (from my self-centered  perspective) Schumacher has left the team in order to open a restaurant of his own. This new establishment, Harold’s Cabin, is co-owned by RiverDogs co-owners Mike Veeck and Bill Murray.

But the RiverDogs food tradition has been ably carried on by current food and beverage overseer Josh Shea and his assistant Jay Weekley, who continue to roll out new items such as this:

023This may look like a corn dog — which would make sense, because it is — but it’s not just any corn dog. Playing off of one of Charleston’s signature dishes, this is a Shrimp-N-Grit Corn Dog.

Of course, I would not be the one consuming such lowcountry ballpark specialties. That job, as always, goes to my designated eater. In Charleston, this individual was one Frank Monterisi. I took the below photo of Frank before tutoring him in the basics of food posing technique. Namely, do not block the entirety of the foodstuff with one’s hand.

024Frank, originally from New York, moved to North Carolina along with his family in 2003. A graduate of Clemson University, he relocated to Charleston in 2007 and currently works as a math teacher at a community college.

“Teaching runs in the family,” said Frank, a RiverDogs season ticket holder. “Being a math teacher is like being a politician. You walk in on the first day and half the people hate you already. I try to do it so that math isn’t like the other four-letter words that people use.”

There would be no four-letter words used on this evening, math-related or otherwise. As a great man maybe once said, “You can’t talk when your mouth is full.”

The Shrimp-N-Grit Corn Dog was brought to our plastic picnic bench location by Jay Weekley, who explained that it is made with yellow stone grits, smoked gouda and shrimp. This mixture is then breaded in hush puppy batter and served alongside a tomato gravy dipping sauce. Like many items in American retail history, it sells for $9. Weekley said that the team sells approximately 25 per ballgame, “which is pretty good for a brand-new item.”

Frank, who prepared for his designated eating assignment by consuming just five Frosted Mini-Wheats earlier in the day, said that the dipping sauce was “amazing” and that the breading was “not too heavy and not too soft.”

He then washed it all down with two alcoholic milkshakes.

027These might not be much too look at, but they were a lot to taste. On the left is an Apple Pie Shake — Angry Orchard cider and vanilla ice cream mixed with an actual apple pie from Charleston’s Mudd Pie Girl Bakery.

“This is fantastic,” said Frank. “There’s the old saying ‘American as apple pie’ and baseball is the national pastime. So what’s better than an Apple Pie milkshake?”

I think Frank should get a part-time job writing ad copy for the RiverDogs.

On the right is a Palmetto Biscotti Shake — Biscotti cookie dough, vanilla ice cream and Palmetto espresso porter beer. Frank praised the “rich, almost coffee-like taste,” but I think he still had his mind on the Apple Pie Shake.

It was then time to lighten things up via the Harvest Salad, which, par for the Minor League Baseball course, is served in a helmet and feeds 2-3 people.

030“We introduced this last year,” said Weekley. “Everybody seemed to be doing Quadruple Bypass Burgers and things like that, and we wanted to go healthier. We use hydroponic lettuce — it’s never in the soil — hollow out the core, fill it with quinoa and top it with fresh fruit and feta cheese.”

032“A lot of people think of salad as rabbit food,” said Frank, who is not a rabbit. “But the fruit adds a nice element and then you mix it with the cheese, it’s like seven food groups in one. It’s nice to see ballparks going away from the norm.”

But there are many ways in which to deviate from the norm, some ways more healthy than others. Shea soon arrived bearing a Double Chicken and Waffle Burger, and this thing looked so good that I had him explain it for posterity.

“My experiences were high and they were met,” said Frank. “As a Yankee, chicken and waffles have become my favorite food since moving to Charleston.”

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Yankee tasted, Yankee approved.

There was no time for further reflection, for Jay Weekley is a relentless man.

039In Jay’s right hand (on your left, dummy) is a Hawaiian Dog. It is topped with pineapple relish, pineapple, red onions, pickled okra, “a little cilantro grown here at the stadium” and house-made lemon aioli. In Jay’s left hand (that would be your right, hockey puck) is a Southern Kimchi Dog. That one has shredded collard greens, locally-made kimchi, sweet piquant peppers and a ginger-soy dressing.

A closer look, for all you closer-look fiends out there:

038Frank said the Hawaiian Dog has “that sweet and sour taste to it” while the Southern Kimchi Dog was like “an Asian twist on sausage and peppers.”

Frank, like me, is a single man. That makes me an expert in online dating profile pictures, and I do believe that this would be an excellent one. Good luck out there, Frank.

040Things had, by now, crossed over into the realm of the ridiculous. Next up was one of the RiverDogs’ new rice bowls. The Southwestern Chicken Bowl, to be exact, consisting of yellow rice, chipotle chicken, house-made corn salsa, cilantro coleslaw, black beans and lime crema.

I took a closer look. Too close, probably.

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“It’s definitely got a kick to it,” said Frank. “The best way to describe it is ‘Loaded Nachos without the nachos.'”

Loaded Nachos without the Nachos is simply “Loaded”, which is how Frank felt at this juncture.

IMG_1243Fortunately, Frank had hit the end of his designated eating run. Asked to sum up his experience, he snapped to attention delivered a final summation.

“There was food variety for all. Everything’s great.”

Now that I think of it, has anyone checked on Frank recently? For all I know, he could still be passed out on a plastic picnic table. But like most endeavors that end in such a fashion, I’m sure it was all worth it.

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: Corn, Dogs in Charleston

To see all my posts from my May 9 visit to the Charleston RiverDogs, click HERE. To see all of my posts from my May 2016 Carolinas Road Trip, click HERE. To see all of 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). 

When this Charleston RiverDogs narrative left off, I had just thrown a ceremonial first pitch perfect strike. This flawless spherical missive gladdened the hearts of all in attendance on this Monday evening at Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park, but while a lesser man would have rested on his laurels I immediately got back to work. The first several innings of the ballgame — an eventual 8-3 RiverDogs victory over the visiting Hickory Crawdads — were spent with my designated eater. This will all be documented in the next post. When that task was complete, I rendezvoused with promotions director Nate Kurant (formerly of the Dunedin Blue Jays) at a location on the third base side of the ballpark. Once there, I was immediately reminded that this Monday — like all Mondays in Charleston — was “Bark in the Park” night.

IMG_1244It was also, regardless of canine admission policies, a beautiful night. A beautiful night…for baseball!

IMG_1246The majestic dog seen two photos above was on the verge of competing in a “sit or stay” on-field contest against another massive (albeit fluffier) canine. The goal was to be the first dog to obey his (or her) owner’s command to sit and stay in a hula hoop placed on the field. Neither contestant seemed too interested in this endeavor, but it was the other, fluffier, dog that won. Another great moment in Charleston baseball history, I’m sure.

One great moment begets another, as Nate and I proceeded to the control room in order to oversee the debut of a Bark in the Park-themed “Simba Cam.” The goal was to have fans hold their dogs triumphantly in the air — ala the Lion King — but really everything was fair game. Lots of laughs were had by all, particularly when a woman held up her corn dog (as seen in the right hand monitor).

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“That went as well as we could have hoped,” said one control room denizen after all was said and done. In Minor League Baseball, as in life, this is always the goal.

I then returned to the third base dugout, in order to participate as a contestant as a between-inning ribbon dance contestant. I’d be representing the third base side of the stadium, competing against a counterpart on the first base side. As always, the victor would be decided by applause.

Upon reporting for duty, I was told that I’d be dancing while dressed as an ear of corn. The justification for this nonsensical wardrobe choice was something I’ve heard time and time again while visiting Minor League ballparks: “Why not?”

Corn

In time-honored Minor League Baseball between-inning contest fashion, getting in the corn suit was a case of “hurry up and wait.” The pace of the game noticeably slowed down (there was a pitching change at one point), and the third out of the inning started to seemed like it would never come. In lieu of plotting a coherent and crowd-pleasing ribbon dance strategy, I sat around and took selfies while lamenting my latest ludicrous stint in ballpark purgatory.

Almost immediately after posting the above tweet, responses like these started appearing in my timeline. I don’t think I look all that much like Ben Roethlisberger, but I guess the dissimilarities are less apparent when wearing a corn suit. Call me Ben Roeth-Biz-Berger.

Finally, after tens of minutes of anticipation, I took the field for the big dance-off. While waiting, I had been given the following advice by a RiverDogs promo staffer: “Start dramatically, with slow, big moves. Then really get going and end with a power move.”

I guess that’s what I was going for here?

At any rate, I lost the ribbon dance-off by a significant applause margin, as apparently my first base side counterpart was the Mary Lou Retton of vegetable suit dancing. He started things off with a series of cartwheels while I was tip-toeing around plotting for a payoff that never came.

Still out of breath but no longer wearing a corn suit, I joined RiverDogs broadcaster Matt Dean for an inning on the airwaves.

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Hey Matt! IMG_1255

Once my time with Matt was said and done, there was almost no baseball left to be played. As the RiverDogs put the final touches on their victory over the Crawdads, I posed for a picture with RiverDogs co-owner Bill Murray.

When there was only one set of footprints in the infield dirt, it was then that Bill Murray carried me.

IMG_1257I also paid a brief visit to the RiverDogs concourse “Memory Booth”, which is a pretty cool idea.

054There is an iPhone camera mounted in the booth. Fans who step aside are simply instructed to press the camera icon and then relay their favorite Charleston baseball memory. I guess my favorite memory is that time I danced on the field while dressed like a piece of corn. Remember that?

Profile2While on the verge of leaving the ballpark, it occurred to me that I had not yet written and disseminated a groundbreaking and subversive ballpark joke. I quickly pressed Nate into service, using his last name (Kurant) as the punchline. Brilliant, as usual.

There was one more interesting — and unexpected — element left in my evening. Upon leaving the ballpark, RiverDogs operations director Philip Guiry asked if I wanted a ride to my hotel. Next thing I knew, I was riding in the breeze in the back of an ’82 El Camino.

Thanks for the ride, Philip. And goodnight, Charleston.

IMG_1262

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: Have Ball, Will Travel in Charleston

To see all my posts from my May 9 visit to the Charleston RiverDogs, click HERE. To see all of my posts from my May 2016 Carolinas Road Trip, click HERE. To see all of 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). 

About a week before I embarked on my road trip to the Carolinas, I received a package in the mail from the Charleston RiverDogs. In said package was a pristine South Atlantic League Baseball, along with a note from RiverDogs mascot Charlie T. RiverDog. “Hi Ben,” it read. “Please return this ball to the Charleston RiverDogs on May 9, 2016. Redeem for one first pitch at Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park.”

I’ve never been one to disregard politely-worded written requests, especially when they come from Minor League mascots, so I dutifully put the ball in my road trip luggage and it traveled with me from New York City. On May 9, as scheduled, the ball and I arrived in Charleston.

After a short walk along the coast (more or less) from my…

001…I arrived at the abundantly leafy front entrance of the ballpark.

003Once I got the to the gates (which had not yet opened to the public), I heard a voice from on high. “Ben Hill,” the voice said. The voice belonged to Riverdogs director of operations Philip Guiry, who, after stringing lights among the trees below, was doing his best not to electrocute himself.

IMG_1229Long-time readers of this blog may remember Philip from my 2013 visit to the Bakersfield Blaze, with whom he held the lofty title of assistant general manager. At the time, he told me that he would be the “Quasimodo of Sam Lynn [Stadium, home of the Blaze], painting fences and changing light bulbs when no one else is here. You can bury me in center field.”

Life apparently got in the way of those ambitious death plans, because here he is in Charleston. Before resuming his cord untangling duties, Philip made a point of showing me an unlikely mural which can be found on the concourse: Charlie T. RiverDog at the Last Supper.

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This mural was painted by an artist by the name of Andy Nelson, who Philip told me “Just shows up and crashes at the stadium, hangs out and paints, and then shuffles off.”

It’s easy to miss, however, as it is located on the inner portion of a concession kiosk conglomeration.

007Philip had work to do, so he asked promotions director Nate Kurant for advice on how to get rid of me.

009They needn’t have worried. Taking inspiration from Andy Nelson the peripatetic muralist, I just sort of shuffled off. Here’s what the concourse looked like, shortly after the gates opened.

004

Mondays are “Bark in the Park” nights, which are always a crotch-sniffing good time.

005

The first base side of the ballpark features a scenic view of the swampy Ashley River surroundings.

015Clearly, it was a beautiful night. A beautiful night…for baseball.

012My wanderings then brought me to the press box. Shortly after entering, Nate yelled “Ben! Fox! Fox!” I just assumed he was letting everyone know that I am a total fox, and maybe he was. But, if so, his urgent exhortations had a dual purpose as there was an actual fox running across the field. After fumbling about with my camera, I snapped this photo just as the fox was about to disappear into the dugout.

011Fox!

011After recovering from this brief encounter with wildlife, my wanderings resumed. These two young boys were practicing their synchronized berm-running routine.

018My next stop was the field of play because, if you’ll recall, I had a first pitch to throw.

019Charlie T. Riverdog, the ball-mailing mascot, was waiting for me.

021I summarily threw a first pitch strike.

ED2G0032

How do you know that it was a strike? Because I never lie.

When this narrative resumes, a game will have just begun. But, for now, I’m just gonna shuffle off.

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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About Monday Night: Charleston RiverDogs, May 9, 2016

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

May 9: Joseph P. Riley Park, home of the Charleston RiverDogs (Class A affiliate of the New York Yankees)

Opponent: Hickory Crawdads, 7:05 p.m. start time

Joseph P. Riley Park, from the outside:

003Joseph P. Riley Park, from within: 

018Culinary Creation: Take it away, Josh Shea:

Ballpark Character: Another day, another “Bark in the Park” promo.

IMG_1245At Random: 

IMG_1252Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: 

Up Next: 

May 10: Myrtle Beach Pelicans

May 12: Columbia Fireflies

May 13: Carolina Mudcats

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz