To see all posts from my July 3 visit to the Danville Braves, click HERE. To see all my posts from my June/July 2016 Appalachian League Road Trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).
The penultimate stop on my Appalachian League trip was Danville, Virginia, the land of the free and the home of the Rookie-level Braves. The Braves play at American Legion Post 325 Field, often referred to as “Legion Field” because who has time for a 12-syllable ballpark name?
Not me. I barely had time to take a photo before I crossed the street.
For this was not just any Sunday evening. It was Independence Day Eve. David Cross, longtime D-Braves general manager, was dressed for the occasion.
Jordan interviewed me on the field prior to the game, which led to this story (and accompanying video). When we were done talking, I turned around and took a poorly composed photo.
I also took note of that which was occurring atop the dugout.
Mascot Blooper! was decked in his patriotic best, and joined by special guest Captain America. A 5′ 6″, 145-pound Captain America.
“Whoo-ee!” he then added, leading me to believe that $301 was a lot to have in the kitty before the game had even begun.
I spent several minutes pondering the slogan on this team bus, which was parked just outside the ballpark. “Experience!” and “Excellence!” are presented as separate positive traits, but I initially read it as a command to “Experience Excellence!”
The ballpark was packed, the front office staff was busy, and I didn’t really know what to do with myself. I just wandered around, taking in the various views while trying not to obscure the views of others.
As the evening wore on, the bleachers got fuller and fuller. The bleachers got fuller because fireworks were to follow.
Tonight’s winning lottery numbers?
Many of the Braves players were gracious in defeat, high-fiving fans and signing autographs en route to the home clubhouse.
Goodnight from Danville, Virginia.
Before we get into the meat of this post — and there is a lot of meat product in it — a brief update: Over the last several weeks, my Appalachian League articles have proceeded apace on MiLB.com. The most recent article, on the Burlington Royals, can be found HERE. Check the dropdown bar within the piece to see all of my articles from the trip. The only Appy League team I have yet to cover in any capacity is the Danville Braves. Thus, I will jump ahead in the blogging narrative in order to provide this post, on my D-Braves designated eaters.
I’ve been recruiting designated eaters since the 2012 season, and in that time the overwhelming majority of them have been male. Not to stereotype, but men seem to comprise the majority of my readers, and men seem to be more willing to pose for ridiculous photos featuring themselves and Minor League foodstuffs. So let’s hear it for Brooke Robinson and Mary DeFriest, 2016’s first female designated eaters!
In the below photo, Brooke and Mary were photobombed by Blooper!, whose name includes a built-in exclamation mark.
Brooke and Mary are both currently employed by the Greensboro Grasshoppers, who operate approximately 45 miles southwest of the Danville Braves. Brooke is the team’s coordinator of promotions and community relations; last season she was a promotions assistant for the Corpus Christi Hooks. Originally from Fort Worth, Texas, Brooke said she knew she wanted to work in baseball after attending a Chicago Cubs game at age 5.
“I just loved the atmosphere and wanted to be a part of it,” she said. “I eventually want Bill Murray status. I want to be a team’s director of fun.”
And, yes, Brooke Robinson is named after Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson. She said her dad wrote the third baseman a letter telling him he was going to name his daughter after him, and that Robinson sent back an autograph.
Mary, originally from Great Falls, Virginia, graduated from Indiana University this spring. She then relocated to Greensboro, where she works for Brooke as a promotions and community relations intern. This is her second Minor League Baseball internship as she spent last season with the Tri-City ValleyCats. Mary said she enjoys working in Minor League Baseball because “it’s a creative atmosphere and I’m a creative person, so I thrive in that atmosphere.”
Brooke and Mary were excited to do their part to alleviate the extreme designated eating gender disparity that has existed thus far.
“First of all, it’s all guys all the time,” said Brooke. “And we’re in the business. We do the YMCA every day. We have no shame.”
OK, time to eat! The concession stand lines were very long on this July 3 evening, but fortunately we had a man on the inside. The following spread was presented to Brooke and Mary, and they were psyched to do some designated eating.
Well, then have at it!
Designated eaters check in, Danville Braves. https://t.co/R7LHWIWUKK
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) July 4, 2016
The “Kitzmiller” is a fried bologna sandwich, named for longtime D-Braves assistant general manager Bob Kitzmiller. Kitzmiller, who retired from the team in March, passed away the morning after this ballgame took place. (I learned of his death via a moment of silence prior to July 4’s Burlington Royals game.) Kitzmiller was well-loved at the ballpark and the community; click HERE to read a local newspaper tribute. Far beyond being a bologna sandwich namesake, Kitzmiller made a large impact in Danville’s sports community and the Appalachian League in general.
Brooke and Mary enjoyed their Kitzmillers.
“I’ve never had bologna cooked this way before, but it tastes pretty good,” said Mary. “I like grilled onions.”
“I’d have been scared to try it, but now that I have I’d definitely get it again,” said Brooke.
Brooke and Mary then cleansed the palate with a beer, which was not a Coors Light despite the usage of a Coors Light cup. My notes say it was a “local orange IPA,” so perhaps it was something from Danville’s 2 Witches Winery and Brewery.
At any rate, the brew got exceedingly high marks. Mary gave it a “10 out of 10” because it didn’t “have a crazy bite to it” and was “smooth.” Brooke declared that a better beer could not be found outside of her native Texas.
Next up was a Blooper! Dog, featuring mustard, chili and a fried pickle. Extreme close-up!
Mary: There’s a lot of mustard.
Brooke: The mustard’s on everything.
Mary: The pickle’s so good. Pickle is the key. I kind of want to eat the pickle by itself.
Brooke: My pickle slid out, so I ate the pickle already.
Mary: They should sell pickle fries like this.
Before moving on to the BBQ Dog, Brooke and Mary sent me on an important errand.
Evan help us. https://t.co/YlENXxBNKG
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) July 4, 2016
Once you’re done laughing at the above (if you’re ever done laughing), then you can move on to this extreme close-up of the BBQ Dog. Topped with pulled pork and slaw, it is more photogenic than it’s Blooper! Dog counterpart.
Once again, a brief conversation ensued.
Mary: I like that it’s not drenched in sauce. Sometimes there’s too much sauce and the bun gets really soggy.
Brooke: And it’s vinegar-based. I would get this.
Mary: I would definitely get this. It’s the perfect combo.
Mary then declared the BBQ Dog to be her favorite item of the night. Brooke went with the Kitzmiller.
And me? I’m just here for the popcorn.
Brooke and Mary’s work was done for the evening, meaning they were now free to hang out with old pal Blooper! and new pal Captain America.
“This was awesome,” said Brooke of the designated eating experience. “I assumed at a smaller ballpark they just had hot dogs. But people should come and try the food here.”
“I’m really thankful for this opportunity and wish it could continue,” said Mary. “I just love food and wish I didn’t have to stop eating.”
I, in turn, thank Brooke and Mary for their designated eating service. It was indeed a great night at the ballpark.
— brooke robinson (@brookebaseball) July 4, 2016
This will be the only Appy League post I’ll have time for before embarking on my next trip, which kicks off Aug. 1 in Sacramento. Please accept my apologies for the blogging backlog –it’s been a very busy couple of weeks for me professionally as well as personally. In a nutshell, I’ve had to find a new apartment in NYC and will be moving in on Friday. I leave for my next road trip two days later. Crazy times!
This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll write a quick 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 even love. Last night I visited Danville, Virginia, the ninth stop on my 10-team Appy League road trip.
July 3: Legion Field, home of the Danville Braves (Rookie-level affiliate of the Atlanta Braves)
Opponent: Burlington Royals, 7 p.m. start time
Legion Field, from the outside:
Legion Field, from within: Fireworks on the day before the Fourth of July; the place was packed.
Culinary Creation: BBQ Dog
Ballpark Character: Mascot Blooper and Captain
Five O’Clock Shadow America, celebrating our nation’s independence on this July 4th Eve.
At Random: Evan Gattis, condiment lord
Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day:
Your groundbreaking and subversive ballpark joke of the day, Danville Braves. https://t.co/ShBT9Uaodz
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) July 4, 2016
My Appy League articles on MiLB.com thus far:
7/4: Burlington Royals
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.
For mascots, there’s no escaping the spotlight. These mute yet endlessly expressive characters are the center of attention everywhere they go, and as a result they always need to be “on.” Pictures are requested, high fives demanded, and antics expected. It’s an exhilarating existence, to be sure, but not at all conducive to moments of quiet reflection and self-analysis.
Yet such moments, while rare, do occur. To capture them on camera is an exhilarating feeling, akin to a landlocked bird watcher getting an glimpse of the elusive Red Phalarope. This is how I felt during a June trip to Lake County, when I was able to capture Captains mascot Skipper in a moment of introspection.
Feeling inspired by this rare bit of photographic luck, I asked readers to please send in introspective mascot photos of their own. This request was met with an enthusiastic response, and the results are contained in this post.
What follows is the most impressive collection of introspective mascot photos that the world has ever seen.
The above individual is Louie of the Great Lakes Loons, whose powers of introspection are far greater than the average bird. Soon after abandoning his dugout perch, he went into the stands and got the fans to join him in a moment of quiet contemplation.
Another city boasting thoughtful birds amongst its citizenry is Toledo. Muddy the Mud Hen is a voracious reader, and can sometimes be spotted at the local library with his beak buried in a good book.
Muddy’s literary endeavors have increased his powers of imagination. Back at the ballpark, he sometimes gets lost in thought while resting his left arm on a railing that doesn’t even exist.
As evidenced by the picture of Skipper at the top of this post, ballpark tunnels represent a good place for a mascot to temporarily escape from the madding crowd. Here’s Phinley of the Clearwater Threshers, patriotically pontificating.
Meanwhile, in Winston-Salem, Bolt takes a moment to reflect before instigating some between-inning hula-baloo.
They say lightning doesn’t strike twice, but I was able to get a shot of Bolt during my visit to Winston-Salem this past July. This one is perhaps less “introspective” than “fatigued.”
While in Winston-Salem, I spent time with not one but TWO blog readers who went on to email me introspective mascot photos. Matt “Possum” Campbell solicited this shot of the Danville Braves’ “Blooper,” who does his best thinking with left hand planted firmly on stomach.
Meanwhile, veteran Minor League wanderer Rex Doane sent in pictures from various far-flung locales. Our journey with Rex begins in Norfolk, where Rip Tide sometimes assumes a near-beatific demeanor.
Then we fly over to flyover country, with this behind-the-back view of Swoop of the South Bend Silver Hawks.
And, finally, we arrive in the modest environs of the Modesto Nuts’ dugout. That’s where Al Almond sometimes goes in order to escape from the nuttiness surrounding him.
Another thoughtful dugout denizen is Fort Wayne’s Johnny TinCap, whose demeanor is never crotchety even if his hobbies sometimes are.
Of course, one doesn’t need to be solitary to be introspective. Over the three seasons that the team has been in existence, Chopper of the Gwinnett Braves has established himself as one of the most empathetic woodchucks in the Minors. Here he is having an on-field heart-to-heart.
Chopper’s upright demeanor is in stark contrast to Millie of the Lowell Spinners. On the last day of the season, this canal-dwelling alligator went deep into her own headspace while sitting on a stadium bench.
Allie’s daughter, Millie, simply curled up in the fetal position in order to think long and hard about the season that had just transpired.
With this concept on the verge of collapse, it seems that I’ll have to call it a day. Of course, keeping sending those introspective mascot photos in. I am totally amenable to there being a second, third, fourth, and even fifth installment of this series.
There will be no sixth installment.
American Legion Post 325 Field at Dan Daniel Memorial Park might have an unwieldy name, but it’s a pretty unassuming place to watch a ballgame.
The city-owned facility is home to the Appy League’s Danville Braves, but as the name would imply it also hosts an array of local youth teams as well. And while the structure itself is modest, the area surrounding it is impressive. “Legion Field”, as it is commonly called, is located within the sprawling 170-acre confines of Dan Daniel Memorial Park.
The park is also home to a gleaming, thoughtfully-constructed Veteran’s Memorial, paying tribute to local war casualties from the Revolutionary War to Iraq and Afghanistan.
I had assumed going into the evening that the town of Danville was named after Dan Daniel, whoever he may be. But this assumption, like so many before it, turned out to be erroneous.
The town of Danville is named for the Dan River, which itself had been named by an 18th-century settler. Dan Daniel, meanwhile, was a longtime Democratic Congressman who died in office in 1989 at the age of 73.
As the plaque notes, Daniel’s “fiscal conservatism was exceeded only by his liberal love of family and nation.” And — look! — his real first name is “W.C.” They could have called the place “W.C. Fields.”
Back within the confines of the stadium, I did my usual round of player interviews and then took in the pre-game scene.
As game time approached, I was caught unawares by the announcement that “Santa Claus” would be throwing out the first pitch. I then did the best I could to document this rare offseason appearance. It wasn’t even “Christmas in July” night. He was just…there.
In the above shot, note that there are a lot of children hanging out in the home dugout. Most of them are the players, many of whom are still in their teens. The rest were there as part of a birthday party for the daughter of D-Braves GM David Cross (I’ll never be able to type that name without thinking of my college-era obsession with Mr. Show).
First pitches, as they often do, gave way to the National Anthem.
And wouldn’t you know it? After the National Anthem the game began.
I spent most of the evening watching from the third and first base bleachers, as the covered grandstand area was obscured by a net that stretched halfway down each base line.
But the view from the first row was nonetheless pretty good.
One key advantage of sitting in the grandstand was that the seats weren’t wet — as was often the case on this road trip, the weather was a bit on the precipitous side.
But why I am sitting here writing about sitting? It’s time’s to sit here and write about wandering. This mural is one of the first things one sees upon entering the park.
It’s very well done, but I liked this bit of ballpark artwork even better.
I can’t help but make a note of this prominent bit of misspelled signage.
Speaking of misspelled signage, I am continually amazed that this Chik-Fil-A advertising campaign was greenlit — desperate members of a species targeted for mass slaughter trying to appease their carnivorous overlords by advocating for the mass slaughter of a different species.
Dystopian sci-fi hasn’t got a thing on Chik-Fil-A.
And on the topic of discriminate animal consumption — let’s check out the D-Braves concessions.
The team proudly serves Kunzler hot dogs. Is it just me, or are there subliminal images embedded within this logo?
But it’s my policy to always order the most unique thing on the menu — in this case the bologna burger. And this led to a problem — I had no money on me. Usually this is rectified by a quick trip to the ATM, but in this case it was rectified by a not-so quick trip to the ATM.
20 minutes, several wrong turns and two out-of-order ATM machines later, I finally found a working cash dispensary and then hightailed it back to the park. The lesson here is that while the Appy League may be cheap, always bring enough cash for all your ticketing/concession/”souvenier”/50-50 raffle needs.
Finally, it was time for the bologna burger.
It’s topped with onions, peppers, and mustard, a combination recommended by the guy working the grill (“That’s how they make ’em down at the racetrack,” he told me).
It tasted fine, but suffered in comparison to my closest reference point: the pork roll sandwich. (This is a New Jersey specialty, and now that’s it on my mind I’ll go on the record and say that a pork roll sandwich with Chickie and Pete’s Crab Fries and a Yuengling is my favorite concession combination in the Minors. Here’s to you, Trenton Thunder.)
But in this particular narrative I’m in Danville and still hungry. While the nachos were standard issue, I appreciated the fact that they were served like this (with a bag of tortilla chips on the side).
It might look sloppy, but layering the bottom of the tray rectifies the all-too-common problem of not enough cheese (writes a single 32-year-old man blogging about nachos on a Friday evening).
But these are nacho problems, they’re mine. So let’s return to the ballgame.
The between-inning activities were fairly minimal, as one would expect. There was a Pony Hop Race (those things are everywhere these days) and a dizzy bat race among other things, but for the most part it was little more than a PA announcement related to sponsorship or an ongoing game program bingo contest. At one point “The Chicken Dance” was played, with no accompanying announcement that it was the Chicken Dance or that people should, in fact, dance. I appreciated this.
Blooper the mascot made the rounds throughout the evening, but my attempts to take an interesting picture of him continually proved fruitless.
But this shot of the Danville sunset turned out pretty well, I think.
Also turning out well was the game itself, with the D-Braves coasting to a 7-3 victory over Pulaski.
There is ample opportunity to interact with coaches and players outside of the home clubhouse after the game.
But what excited me the most was that I finally got a nice shot of Blooper.
I’m going to add this one to my ever-growing “Introspective Mascot” file folder. If you’ve got some of your own to send along, you know where to find me.