Results tagged ‘ Deep South 2015 ’

Return to the Road: Nashville Sights Before Nashville Sounds

Yesterday’s post detailed my visit to Nashville’s Third Man Records. Upon the conclusion of this late morning jaunt, Tyler and I swung by Gabby’s Burgers for lunch. (Tyler, as you may recall, is a Nashville local who, among other life accomplishments, served as my designated eater at that evening’s Sounds game.)

I was familiar with Gabby’s Burgers, having already visited there (thanks to a reader tip) during my 2013 visit to Nashville. I was happy to be back.

IMG_0180I must have taken the above picture after leaving Gabby’s, as when we got there there was a line out the door. It’s an unassuming place — get your place in line, place your order, find a place to sit, wait for your number to be called, retrieve foodstuffs, consume.  IMG_0176Regarding the “Answers to Common Questions” on the wall above the grill, my favorite is the second from the right:

NO

We don’t serve beer. 

I just don’t want to deal with the headaches.

Being gluten-free (I have celiac disease, remember?), it can be tough to get a good burger on the road. But at Gabby’s, you simply have to order it jazz-style. Nothing quite connotes the improvisatory, exploratory nature of jazz quite like meat wrapped in a lettuce bun.

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Anyhow, these burgers (and fries) are great — greasy (but not too greasy), salty, well-seasoned, decently-proportioned and all-in-all satisfying. If you’re in Nashville I’d highly recommend a trip to Gabby’s, which sits in the shadow of the Sounds former Greer Stadium home.

After lunch, I parted ways with Tyler and poked around downtown Nashville for a bit. IMG_0181The Bridgestone Arena, home of the Predators, has a separate entrance for a what I assume is a sizable portion of the fan base.

IMG_0182Here’s the arena, in full part:

IMG_0183My wanderings soon brought me to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

IMG_0184My take:

I would have loved to spend a few hours at the CMOF (that’s what people call it, right?), but the time I had available didn’t justify the required expenditure. It would have been great to learn about Taylor Swift at the Taylor Swift Education Center, for instance.

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No caption, just a Blank Space

Basically, I just wandered around the Country Music Hall of Fame lobby. Or, as I like to call it, a spacious atrium.

IMG_0189Hatch Show Print, an iconic Nashville print shop, is located on the premises. Vintage baseball advertisements were among the many things for sale.

IMG_0187For lack of a better term, they were also selling hipster Bibles.

IMG_0186I ended up buying these two classic CDs at the CMOF gift shop.

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The clerk told me that he used to play Rubber Room at closing time as a way to clear people out of the store. To each his own, I guess. I’d never leave when this is playing.

Back outside, I admired statues.

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IMG_0194I would have visited this museum devoted to Johnny, but I didn’t have the…money.

IMG_0196The John Seigenthaler pedestrian bridge is anything but, as it offers great views of the Nashville skyline. (Previously known as the Shelby Street Bridge, the structure was renamed in honor of journalist and first amendment crusader John Seigenthaler.)

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Storm clouds were beginning to roll through, an ominous sign for that night’s scheduled baseball action (the game was called in the second inning).

IMG_0198Finally, I hoofed it on over to Broadway. This is the most touristy section of the city, what Beale Street is to Memphis. With time running out, I decided to make a brief stop at the Ernest Tubb Record Shop.

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This establishment has a great marquee, and the display at the back of the store (an homage to the still-ongoing Midnight Jamboree) adds a lot of character.

IMG_0205But as for the records themselves, this store was lousy. Understocked, with a selection comprised of overpriced (and generally not hard to find elsewhere) CDs.

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But I don’t want to end on a negative note. I loved being in Nashville, and this is the only way I’ll rag on such a great city.

Thanks for reading this penultimate series of “Return to the Road” posts. There’s still more to come in that regard (from my New England trip), which should segue nicely into the reveal of my 2016 travel itinerary.

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Return to the Road: Third Man, a First Person Account

August 4, the final day of my sprawling ballpark road trip through the South, was spent in Nashville. My primary objective in the Music City was to check out First Tennessee Park, the new home of the Nashville Sounds. Stadium visits are always the primary objective.

But the secondary objective, as always, was to explore the city to the extent my limited time frame allowed. In this regard, I received a major assist from Tyler Glaser. Tyler, who works at Grimey’s Records as well as the historic Belcourt Theatre, had volunteered to be my designated eater at that evening’s Sounds game. Utilizing some local connections, he also set up a tour of Third Man Records. Third Man is the music shop/record label/house of curiosities/recording studio/performance space established by Jack White. The company began in Detroit; the Nashville branch opened in 2009.

Third Man is located on 7th Avenue South, in a rather unassuming location.

001 (2)The open-to-the-public portion of Third Man consists of two rooms.

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005Restoring turn-of-the-20th century coin-op entertainment is a Third Man specialty.

This is the Scopitone, which plays music videos on 16mm sound film. Third Man co-founder Ben Blackwell, who gave Tyler and me a tour, said that this is the only Scopitone in operation and that they had to “Frankenstein it together.” He went on to say that maintaining it is a “nightmare.”

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16mm films at the base of the Scopitone:

IMG_0170“Fully automatic” Photobooth:

IMG_0173This is the “Voice-o-Graph.” One can step inside and record anything they want direct to vinyl. Blackwell said that customers do “marriage proposals, jokes, whatever.” More ambitiously, Neil Young recorded his 2014 LP A Letter Home on the Voice-O-Graph. And let’s not forget that Weird Al and his band stopped by and recorded this.

Records, all released by the Third Man label, are available as well. (I, forever and always, am a fan of Mudhoney.)

008Blackwell described the whole Third Man operation as “Simple DIY on a large scale.” Our tour continued throughout the entire facility, but unfortunately cameras were no longer allowed. The “Hipster Willy Wonka” vibe (as I heard one person refer to it as) continued throughout. We passed thorough a graphic design station (staffed by four full-time designers) and a recording studio featuring live direct-to-acetate recordings. If my notes are to be believed, the studio uses a Rupert Neve 5008 console and the signal is sent to a 1955 Scully Lathe.

The musicians who record at Third Man set up in a literal “Blue Room”, augmented by soft lighting, carpets and taxidermy.

Ben’s Biz solo record, coming soon:

thirdmanphoto My notes include a lot of other interesting tidbits from my time at Third Man, but a lot of it is out of context and kinda hard to convey without accompanying photos. A few random notes:

— The operation is bigger than it looks from the outside. Third Man Nashville has grown from two to 27 employees since it opened in 2009, and has expanded to include the building next door (which had been an auto body shop).

— All Third Man Record order fulfillment is done in house; when Jack White’s Lazaretto LP came out they shipped 25,000 in a single week.

— A “super-top secret” master tape storage room is located on the premises, climate-controlled and fire-proof. In the (increasingly likely) advent of the apocalypse, it’s possible that Third Man recordings will survive and perhaps even thrive in a post-human reality.

Anyhow, thanks to Tyler for setting up the tour and Ben for showing us around.

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Return to the Road: I Went to Jackson, and That’s a Natural Fact

On August 2 I visited the Mississippi Braves, who play outside of Jackson, Mississippi. I bypassed that particular Jackson entirely, however, in favor of its Tennessee counterpart. Jackson, Tennessee, is perhaps best known in pop culture via the country duet “Jackson“, an exemplar of marital dysfunction and misplaced masculine confidence. The tune wasn’t written with any particular Jackson in mind but has since become most associated with Tennessee. In 1967 it was recorded by both Johnny and June Carter Cash and Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra. Both versions are stellar (though make me choose one and it’ll be Nancy and Lee every time).

After witnessing August 3’s Jackson Generals game, I had a little time to poke around the next afternoon before moving on to Nashville. So, I poked. Said poking soon brought me to the Madison County Courthouse; the monument seen on the right is dedicated “To the CONFEDERATE DEAD of Madison Co.”

IMG_0145On the courthouse lawn stands my favorite historical plaque of all time. It made me laugh for a couple minutes straight, and over the last six months it has continued to make me laugh at semi-regular intervals.

IMG_0150The First United Methodist Church, which boasts an interesting history, is located nearby.

IMG_0153It was now (past) lunchtime. I needed to get a meal in Jackson before heading out of the city. The West Alley BBQ and Smokehouse was just a short walk away; how could I argue with that?

IMG_0158I stopped by West Alley on a Tuesday afternoon, and the place was nearly deserted. This certainly looks like more of a late-night, party-oriented live music kind of environment. I wish I could have experienced it as such.

IMG_0155Nonetheless, the atmosphere was very welcoming. The waitress, a young African-American woman whose name I unfortunately cannot recall, pulled up a seat next to me and made various menu recommendations while asking where I was from and what had brought me there.

I went with the rib platter.

IMG_0156West Alley only has 11 Yelp reviews and 13 on TripAdvisor, so from an internet-based perspective it’s a bit of an unknown. But the guest book was loaded with accolades from out-of-town guests, and I was happy to add my own.  IMG_0157After making my feelings known, I had to split.

IMG_0159Goodbye, Jackson.

IMG_0160And hello, open road. Soon enough, I found myself at one of our nation’s greatest rest areas.

IMG_0162I also ended up in traffic next to Ted Cruz’s tour bus. This marked the only time in my life in which I was to the right of Ted Cruz.

IMG_0163Somewhere on the way to Nashville, there was a massive AT&T outage. My destination had been (predictably) a local record store, but with maps and internet down on my phone I had no idea how to get there. It made me feel like a helpless baby, unable to function in a world without a smartphone, and served as a reminder to always have my destination written down as well as a supply of relevant maps.

While aimlessly driving around the city’s downtown, I stopped outside of the Tennessee Titans’ Nissan Stadium to recalibrate. I don’t find stadiums, they find me.

IMG_0164Finally, after much trial and error, I made it to my location: Grimey’s Records (and the adjacent Grimey’s Too).

IMG_0166At Grimey’s I met Tyler Glaser, who was to be my designated eater at the following evening’s Nashville Sounds game. But, prior to that, he had set up a visit to Jack White’s Third Man Records. That will be detailed in the next post in this series.

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Return to the Road: History en route to Mississippi

Once again, it is time to return to the road. This latest round of posts detail my late July/early August journey through a not-inconsiderable portion of the South. The previous installment detailed my time in the general area of Biloxi. Today we begin in Mobile, Alabama, home of the BayBears.

As is too often the case on my jam-packed road trips, I didn’t really have any time to explore Mobile. (I had the time when I was there in 2010, however).

Anyhow, here’s a picture taken from an elevated location.

IMG_0092And…that’s about all I have for Mobile. I was actively mobile throughout my entire stay and didn’t really have the time to take pictures. Early the next afternoon, before leaving town, I set my coordinates for a Vietnamese restaurant. Along the way, however, I saw this.

IMG_0094As a big fan of mudbugs — or crawfish, or crayfish, or whatever you want to call them — I felt compelled to alter my plans and stop in for lunch. However, I got confused and ordered a platter off of the “fried” menu instead of the “fresh.” This would be a mistake under any circumstances, but doubly so for me given my (unwanted but necessary) gluten-free reality.

After staring at this brown mound with a mixture of shock and horror, I left the restaurant in a state of shame and disgrace.

IMG_0093My bad luck (or, more accurately, ineptitude) continued at a nearby gas station, where a serious of payment issues, gas cap snafus and miscellaneous bloopers led to a prolonged ordeal. At the end of it I was so flustered that a fellow customer had to stop me from driving away with the hood of my car popped open. It was a complicated and embarrassing situation, and that night in my hotel room I recorded a six-minute monologue about it.

I will not share said monologue. Just know that, on the road, I sometimes experience mental meltdowns. But the bad times are more than made up for by the unexpected joys.

Unexpected joys such as finding this unorthodox salt and pepper distribution system in my Montgomery, Alabama hotel room.

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The next day, I left Montgomery (home of the Biscuits) and drove onward to Pearl, Mississippi (home of the Mississippi Braves). As it just so happened (I didn’t even realize it beforehand), my planned Route 80 excursion took me across the Alabama River via the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

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The Edmund Pettus Bridge was the location of one of the most indelible moments of the Civil Rights movement. On “Bloody Sunday” — March 7, 1965 — demonstrators were viciously attacked by police (and recently-deputized legitimized thugs) as they walked the bridge while en route to Montgomery to confront Governor George Wallace about the recent police murder of protester Jimmie Jackson. Two days later, with the nation watching, the demonstrators returned and, this time, were allowed to cross the bridge in peace. These events were powerfully depicted in the 2014 Martin Luther King biopic Selma. 

And there I was, driving across that very same bridge on a sleepy Sunday morning, while en route from one Minor League stadium to another. I pulled over in Selma’s nearly deserted downtown and walked across the bridge, feeling nearly overcome with emotion (including self-loathing, for not ever taking a true risk in service of a greater good). Pettus, a former Alabama governor, was a Grand Dragon in the KKK. And now his name will forever be associated with peaceful protest in service of racial equality.

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Downtown Selma

The Alabama River

The Alabama River

IMG_0120After that welcome pit stop, it was onward toward Pearl. Misunderstanding just how rural the drive would be, I didn’t fill up my tank when I had the chance and almost ran out of gas. I don’t know where this gas station was, but I was very happy to have found it.

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Finally, I made it to Mississippi.

IMG_0123In Mississippi, I found a pork rind that, to my addled brain, looked like baby Jesus’s manger. I shoulda sold it to the Weekly World News. 

IMG_0124Thanks, Truckland.

IMG_0139And thank you, for reading.

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Return to the Road: In the Vicinity of Biloxi

Hello, and welcome to the latest installment of “Return to the Road.” Yesterday’s post detailed a few highlights of my time in New Orleans from July 27-29. On the 29th — a Wednesday, for those keeping score at home — I drove approximately 90 miles northeast to Biloxi. I was in Biloxi for two nights but, unfortunately, spent very little time in the city itself outside of MGM Park and a nearby hotel.

I did poke around the area a little, but let’s back up a bit. During the Shuckers game on the 29th, I met local restaurateur Brad Orrison. He’s the co-owner of The Shed, a barbecue located in nearby Ocean Springs that also has a stand at MGM Park.

Brad Orrison and his little "Shed-Heads."

Brad Orrison and his little “Shed-Heads.”

On the afternoon of July 30, I decided to drive to The Shed. It is a self-consciously ramshackle and very spacious establishment.

IMG_0044A closer look.

IMG_0048Upon entering, you place your order at the counter, and then, take a seat. To pass the time while waiting, you may want to take a dimly-lit photo.

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To my left, there was a live performance area. The Shed is a “Blues and BBQ joint,” and I imagine that it gets pretty lively on nights and especially weekends. Thursday afternoons, not so much.

Here’s a (poorly lit) photo of brisket and baked beans (My fries never arrived, but I decided not to make an issue of it after remembering that I’m too fat as it is).

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I should really keep tasting notes or something, because I’m writing this some seven months later and my memory is hazy regarding how The Shed’s barbecue actually tasted. I recall liking it, but that the meat could have stood to be a little tenderer. In retrospect, I wish I had gotten the ribs, which are the house specialty.

Also during the Shuckers game on the 29th, then-general manager Buck Rogers (now with the Lancaster JetHawks) told me that his favorite barbecue in the area was the burnt ends at Murky Waters. In order to get ’em, though, you had to arrive early. Therefore, on July 31, after checking out of the hotel, I drove back to Ocean Springs.

Murky Waters is in downtown proper, as opposed to The Shed’s more remote Highway 57 location.

IMG_0059I arrived early enough to snag an order of burnt ends. Success!

IMG_0058Burnt ends are the best, in general, and these were particularly good. Soft, fatty. melt-in-your-mouth meat contrasted with a crisp blackened crunch (a description that, metaphorically speaking, could be applied to many of my favorite bands).

Anyhow, Ocean Springs is a picaresque town.

IMG_0060This is the “Tatonut Shop”, specializing in potato flour donuts. I would’ve loved to have tried them, but they were not gluten-free so in lieu of eating I stood forlornly outside and took a picture.

IMG_0061Wandering begot more wandering.

IMG_0062Somewhere in the vicinity of the tree-lined street shown above, I stopped at a local pharmacy to pick up toothpaste and pens (two of my biggest road trip needs). I was quite taken with the store’s selection and decor.

IMG_0072From there, it was just a short drive to some waterfront views.

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IMG_0064My final act in Ocean Springs, as it is in so many of the places that I visit, was to take a picture of a spider in a port-a-potty.

IMG_0067And with that, it was time to bid adieu to coastal Mississippi. Mobile, Alabama, awaited.

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Return to the Road: A Little Time in the Big Easy

Return to the Road 2015: Trip IV, Chapter I

Things are getting busy here at MiLB.com HQ, as the season is now only five weeks away. Therefore, while I still have the sliver of opportunity, I am return to my ongoing “Return to the Road” series of blog posts.

Today marks the first installment in a series of posts that will cover my late July/early August trip through the South. The journey began in New Orleans on July 27th and ended in Nashville on August 6th.

road_trip_shucking_6le23wlkI arrived in New Orleans on July 27th, a day before I was to see the New Orleans Zephyrs. So, I had a little free time. A mini-vacation, if you will. I got a cheap hotel room at the Hotel Royal in the French Quarter (it was a last-minute booking for a Monday night in late July, a great time to get affordable lodging in New Orleans).

The room itself was unremarkable, but the courtyard was great.

IMG_0011I didn’t see any ghosts while I was in New Orleans, but I could occasionally feel them whispering veiled allusions into my subconscious. The whole city is haunted, apparently, to the point where real estate signage actually makes it a selling point.

IMG_0008I don’t think that this waving figure was a ghost, but she definitely wasn’t alive.

IMG_0006I am saddened and embarrassed to report that I didn’t make the most of my “off” night in New Orleans. I was kinda stressed about the trip, and had many logistics to coordinate and writing to get caught up on. When not in the hotel room I just kinda wandered around, including a depressing 90 -minute jaunt amid the claustrophobic clamor of the Bourbon Street tourist traps. I sulked about, hand grenade in hand (drink, not weapon), and soon called it a night.

The next afternoon was better, as I spent a couple of hours with my friends Rachel and D.J. (who live in the city and — hey! — just had a baby. Congrats). They live in Uptown, on a street boasting “only in New Orleans” parking signage.

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Rachel and D.J. took me to Hansen’s Sno-Bliz, a New Orleans institution.

IMG_0017Hansen’s Sno-Bliz sells sno-balls, a New Orleans specialty. They are basically high-quality snow cones, in which flavored syrups are poured atop soft mounds of shaved ice. I was overwhelmed by the number of flavors available.

IMG_0015I don’t remember what I ordered, but it was some sort of combo and Satsuma was involved. It was delicious.

IMG_0016The evening of July 28th was spent with the New Orleans Zephyrs, who are actually located in nearby Metairie. A dedicated “Return to the Road” reader has since informed me that Gram Parsons is buried in Metairie. (The legendary country-rocker died in Joshua Tree, and getting his body back home was, to put it mildly, a complicated situation.)

R.I.P. Gram.

Photo Nov 12 2 18 43 PMMy final act in New Orleans was to have lunch at the Camelia Grill with Rachel and D.J. Behind the stately exterior lies a beloved greasy spoon diner known for its bow-tied wait staff and cramped, communal counter seating.

IMG_0030Thus concludes one of the most ramshackle and arbitrary New Orleans write-ups that has ever graced the internet, as I was soon on to Biloxi. Please, stay tuned. There will be more where this came from, all the way until there isn’t.

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On the Road: Gourmet Nachos and Hot Chicken in Nashville

To see all posts from my August 5, 2015 visit to the Nashville Sounds (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my July/August 2015 trip through the Deep South, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

As mentioned in the previous installments of this series, the Nashville Sounds (Triple-A affiliate of the Oakland A’s) proudly serve the local specialty that is “Hot Chicken.”

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They also serve a host of unique high-quality concessions at the “Band Box” in right field.

027028My designated eater — you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet prohibits — for this evening at First Tennessee Park was Tyler Glaser.

085 (more…)

On the Road: Truncated and Deflated in Nashville

To see all posts from my August 5, 2015 visit to the Nashville Sounds (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my July/August 2015 trip through the Deep South, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

When I visited Nashville’s Greer Stadium in 2013, the Sounds were expecting me:

1261Two years later, I once again visited Nashville and, once again, the Sounds were expecting me. Specifically, Sounds creative services manager Alex Wassel was expecting me. Here he is in the team’s front office digs, on the upper level of their new home of First Tennessee Park.

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Let’s take a closer look at Alex’s calendar for August 5. Clearly, he had written this down months and months before my arrival.
064Yes! Continuity! This is “Ben Hill in Tha House, Part Two.” Not only was it my second visit to Nashville, but this is also the second post in this series detailing my visit to the Sounds’ new home of First Tennessee Park. Part One contained a detailed overview of my pregame tour of the ballpark. As we begin Part Two, “Tha House” was about to open.
IMG_0207Any moment now, hordes of Nashvillians would be swarming into First Tennessee Park. Once inside, they would be able to gaze upon the wonder of the guitar scoreboard.

IMG_0210Perhaps they would gaze upon the wonder of the scoreboard while playing a spirited game of cornhole at the Band Box Bar.

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Or maybe they’d simply gaze at this sign on the back of the batter’s eye, lost in nostalgic reverie regarding all of the professional baseball that had previously been played at this site.

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Regardless, it was sure to be a beautiful evening at the ballpark. The tarp, which had resided contently upon the field throughout the afternoon, had been removed. All was beautiful. All was well. Nothing could, or would, go wrong. Of this I was sure.

IMG_0212With the hordes now unleashed, it was time for me to bid adieu to Alex and his front office surroundings. But not before documenting a Sounds’ collector’s cup that happened to be in the vicinity. Hey, #cupdate fiends — here’s your #cupdate!

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Barry Zito — Major League star turned retiree turned 2015 Nashville Sound turned improbable late-season 2015 Oakland Athletic — is on this cup. #Cupdate!

069Downstairs, the hordes were streaming in. Booster the Hot Chicken was there to greet them.

IMG_0213Booster is a “hot chicken.”

IMG_0215“Hot chicken” as in, a spicy form of fried fowl that originated in Nashville. It is now a ballpark specialty, and I’ll include details on it in the next (and last) post of this Nashville Sounds blog series.

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In short order, Booster and I made our way down onto the field. It was time for “Belle of the Ballpark” to begin, a beauty pageant for women 60 and older sponsored by Baby Boomer-centric radio station Hippie 94.5. Host Barry explained to the pregame crowd that, throughout the course of the evening, the contestants would be judged based on personality, appearance and crowd reaction. Then, one would be declared “Belle” of the ballpark. That has a nice ring to it.

071One of the contestants waves to the crowd:

074Meanwhile, the players warmed up…

077…while Booster rallied the hordes.

Soon enough, it was time for the National Anthem.

080And after the National Anthem? All that’s left to do, really, is “Play Ball.”

081Soon after the game began, I rendezvoused with my designated eater (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). That, again, will be detailed in the next post.

But here’s the thing: It started raining almost as soon as the game began. And it kept on raining for a while. The game went into a delay in the first inning, and was suspended after less than an hour. It was kind of baffling that the game was called so quickly, especially since the rain was never torrential, stopped within a half hour of starting, and the field is capable of draining 10 inches of water per hour. But no baseball was the new reality. That evening’s game between the Sounds and Redbirds would not be played, and there would be no Belle of the Ballpark.

But so be it: At least one day I can tell my grandkids that I witnessed the first rainout in the history of First Tennessee Park. That’s gotta count for something, right? (Let’s overlook the fact that, to the best of my knowledge, I don’t even have kids.)

But the proper historical perspective didn’t settle into my brain space until later that evening. My immediate reaction was frustration, which caused me to deliver the evening’s Groundbreaking and Subversive Joke in a state of duress. I said “rain delay” when I meant “rainout,” but it’s too late to change things now.

Eh, whatever. Just stay tuned for the next post. There’ll be some photos of Hot Chicken. Or, as I and no one else likes to call it, fiery fowl.

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On the Road: My First Look at First Tennessee Park in Nashville

To see all posts from my August 5, 2015 visit to the Nashville Sounds (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my July/August 2015 trip through the Deep South, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

The ultimate stop of the year’s penultimate road trip was Nashville, home of the Sounds. I last visited the Sounds in 2013, not long ago at all, but there was a valid reason to make a return trip.

New stadium!

015First Tennessee Park, the front entrance of which resembles a hockey arena, replaces Greer Stadium. Greer, built in 1978, had a ramshackle charm that I really enjoyed. It was also a bit of a dump, and not up to the standards required by current Minor League Baseball facilities. For confirmation of Greer’s “dump” status, just ask veteran members of the Sounds front office. They all have (usually hilarious) Greer horror stories, as it was a generally dis-a-Greer-able place to work.

First Tennessee Park is located north of Greer Stadium, in downtown Nashville, built on the same site where Sulphur Dell Ballpark (operational from 1870 to 1963) once stood. I arrived many hours before game time, parking in a nearby lot which may or may not have been a legitimate place to park.

011“Is this a Sounds parking lot?” I asked a game day food service employee walking in the direction of the ballpark.

“Well, we use it,” was the reply.

Good enough for me!

The weather forecast on this Tuesday afternoon was ominous; the cloud cover was thick and heavy rains were expected. When I arrived the tarp was on the field, but the presence of a tarp could not deter a pregame walking tour. In this endeavor, Sounds vice president of operations Doug Scopel served as my guide.

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The guitar scoreboard was the most iconic feature of Greer Stadium and, as you can see in the above picture, First Tennessee Park features guitar scoreboard 2.0.

024Doug noted that the main body of the scoreboard is the equivalent of 860 32″ televisions. Note, also, that the line score is displayed on the guitar’s bridge and that each fret is made up of a separate screen.

“That’s the biggest question we got,” said Doug. “‘Are you bringing the guitar?’ It’s part of Nashville Sounds baseball, we had to have it.”

As a reference point, this is what the original guitar scoreboard at Greer looked like.

oldboard

The tour began in earnest in the outfield concourse, where the view of the field looked a little something like this:

021I should note at this juncture that I’ve already written a recap of my First Tennessee Park tour, which ran on MiLB.com. As always, in the interest of minimal redundancy, I shall quote directly from that article whenever it is appropriate to do so.

Like, right now:

The facility is largely surrounded by barricaded dirt lots at the moment, but change is imminent. The land adjacent to the facility is owned, variously, by the state of Tennessee, Metro Nashville and private developers (including the Sounds’ ownership group). Much of the development to come, including condominiums beyond left field and a parking garage beyond right, has been spearheaded by [Sounds owner Frank] Ward and his sons, Chris and Tim. 

constructIn the below picture, the darker colored concrete is part of a preexisting greenway that ran through the municipal parking lots that once dominated (and still exist) in the area.

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Doug said that the long-term plan is to alter the location of the concourse fences in order to make this portion of the greenway accessible to the public on non-gamedays. (There will also be an entryway to the ballpark via a culdesac from Fourth Avenue, which will accommodate fans arriving from the still-under-construction parking garage in the photo seen above.)

Fans of this series of concrete-based photos will thrill to this loading, which is somehow wide enough to accommodate two tractor trailers parked side-by-side.

025This sign, on the back of the batter’s eye, pays homage to Sulphur Dell. It is an approximation of the sign that once stood outside of the ballpark, which hosted 94 seasons of baseball.

023Again, from my MiLB.com piece:

“The reason our mayor and our owner came to this site is because it brings development, and it brings baseball home,” said Scopel. “This was Nashville’s baseball home for 93 years. … We wanted to find ways to educate and honor the 93 years that had come before.” 

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Most visibly, Sulphur Dell is commemorated via the rust-colored “Baseball’s Most Historic Park” signage located behind the batter’s eye in center field. Furthermore, all directional signage within the stadium is accompanied by a photo of a Nashville player who made his mark playing at Sulphur Dell. For instance, this concourse sign highlights the prodigious two-way talents of 1902 Nashville Vol Hugh Hill.

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Hugh Hill: No relation to Ben

Moving toward right field, one finds the “Band Box.” Take it away, previously written article:

[The Band Box] is a concession and general hangout area in right field created in partnership with Nashville-based Strategic Hospitality (whose Nashville portfolio includes a half-dozen restaurants that are, for lack of a better word, hip).  

“The specific thought was to create a spot for the young-adult crowd,” said Scopel.

The Band Box includes a full-service bar, sprawling lounge furniture, ping pong tables, and, in what must be a Minor League first, a shuffle board table.

029The sound system in the Band Box operates separately from the PA system, giving fans even more opportunity to completely ignore what’s going on in the ballgame.  030And, yes, the above italicized text didn’t lie. There is indeed a ballpark shuffleboard table!

032Within the Band Box’s right field seating area, patrons can attract the attention of their servers by raising the mail flag attached to each table. These tables, consisting of four seats apiece, cost $70. There are 27 tables, total.

033For the last time, a quote from my MiLB.com piece:

First Tennessee Ballpark is LEED (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design) Silver Certified, and perhaps the most visible element of this green approach is the cistern located in right field. Rainwater runoff from the roof and storm water drain is pumped into the cistern, and the water is used for irrigating the playing field.

“It’s about reusing the water that’s already here, so that we’re not taking fresh water all of the time,” said Scopel. 

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I’m not sure if the Sounds will install another cistern next to the one seen above, but it’s generally agreed that one cistern deserves another. (Cisterns that leak and thus fail to collect rainwater are called “Twisted Cisterns” because “they’re not gonna take it.”)

The concourse is composed of ultra-smooth MMA flooring, which stands for “methyl methacrylate” and not “mixed martial arts.” The concession stand seen below, one of four on the concourse, is called “Sulphur Dell Slices.” I’ll cover some of the concession offerings later in this series.

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First Tennessee Park has four “Field Suites” behind home plate, each of which accommodate 40 people. They are available on a per-game basis.

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While the Field Suites are pretty cool, they do make a significant chunk of seating unavailable to fans who might wish to sit behind home plate.
047The playing field is situated 17 feet below street level, meaning that the dugout, seen below, is situated even lower. Also, these must be the widest dugouts in all of Minor League Baseball. (They weren’t designed to be this wide, but mistakes happen.)

051Whilst strolling through the ballpark’s ever-pleasant bowels, Doug and I passed the indoor batting cage.

050But soon it was back up to the concourse and into the team store.

053This throwback jersey honors the Volunteers (or “Vols”), denizens of Sulphur Dell from 1901-63.

055This jovial moment in Vols history is commemorated upstairs, in the owner’s suite.

057Also upstairs is the “Tequila Cuestion Club Lounge,” which offers views of the field or, if you turn in the other direction, views of a concession area.

060The view of the field, at this juncture of the afternoon, included the removal of the tarp. Things were looking up!

062Would there be a game on this gray Tuesday evening in Nashville? Stay tuned to find out!

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On the Road: An Early Evening Late Night Snack in Jackson

To see all posts from my August 3, 2015 visit to the Jackson Generals (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my July/August 2015 trip through the Deep South, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

The last time I visited the Jackson Generals, in June 2012, I ran a photo of myself holding a Yuengling beer. This photo, I remarked, had “a personal significance that I’ll explain at a later date.”

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The “personal significance” was that this was the last beer that I ever ordered at a ballpark. Earlier that month I had been diagnosed with celiac disease; my late June 2012 trip through the South represented the last time that I would ever eat and drink at a ballpark without concern for said food and drink being gluten-free. The following month I ran a post announcing that I had celiac disease, and the first “designated eater” (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet now prohibits) appeared on the blog at the tail end of that 2012 season.

I now have a designated eater at every ballpark that I visit. At August 3’s Generals game, that individual was a man named Bob Sanders.

030Bob, who works for a Memphis-based claims management company, is a life-long baseball fan who enjoys collecting autographs at Minor League games. His passion for this hobby began in the mid-’80s, when he would attend games at the Memphis Chicks’ home of Tim McCarver Stadium. (The Chicks moved to Jackson in 1998 and became the Generals.) Bob attended the ballgame along with Abigail, his 10-year-old daughter, and Barry, a friend, fellow autograph collector and former Memphis Chicks clubhouse manager.

Amid the usual array of ballpark staples, the Generals offer a few unique items. Most unique — and certainly the most outlandish — is “Sarge’s Late Night Snack.” This sandwich, named after the mascot’s alleged nocturnal food cravings, consists of a quarter pound burger topped with barbecue pork, bacon, Philly steak, and white queso.

“Sarge’s Late Night Snack,” added to the menu in 2015 by new manager of catering and concessions Eric Kormanik, is available at the concourse grill. It’s got a hefty price tag ($14, if my nearly indecipherable notes are to be believed), and the menu posted by the grill offers no details as to what it contains. You have to be very curious or already in the know, criteria that applies to all of the best things in life.

Here’s grillmaster Eric Spencer, standing in front of the array of meat that will soon become Sarge’s Late Night Snack.

026Eric said that he enjoys a “Sarge’s Late Night Snack” on occasion, though he can’t eat it in one sitting. He also doubts Sarge’s ability to eat his namesake item, since he “doesn’t move his mouth.”

After Bob hit the fixins bar, Sarge’s Late Night Snack was ready for its close-up.

029Have at it, Bob.

“It’s actually a pretty good combo. I’m serious,” said Bob. “You actually get the different flavors. The burger’s at the bottom, that’s the first taste, and then the other meats. Definitely, the cheese holds everything together. It makes it a lot easier. Though, this is not something that a dainty person should eat. It’s a manly meal.”

“He’s almost never impressed,” said Abigail, clearly surprised that her Dad was giving Sarge’s Late Night Snack a positive review. She then gave it a try herself.

032“Yum,” said Abigail.

Barry, Memphis Chicks clubbie turned Memphis-area teacher, was then persuaded to give Sarge’s Late Night Snack a try. He did so after Bob said something along the lines of “Hey, you’re single again, might as well get yourself out there.”

Indeed, this would make for an excellent online dating profile picture.

035“That’s pretty good,” he said. “The peppers and onions, that’s my first taste.”

Next up: Barbecue Nachos.

028Like the Sarge’s Late Night Snack, these nachos are another Eric Kormanik creation (not to be confused with Eric Spencer, grillmaster). Eric K. reports that the barbecue pork is courtesy of Jackson-based Cajun Cookers, who deliver the meat, already seasoned, in Cryovac bags.

Here’s Bob as he prepares to enjoy a nacho, with Eric standing proudly beside him.

039“It’s definitely more of a Southern barbecue flavor,” said Bob. “It’s not the Rendezvous [Barbecue Nachos, made famous by the Memphis Redbirds], but it’s a lot better than what Memphis has now. But I would like the option of dry rub.”

As a reference point, here’s a circa-2012 photo of the Memphis Redbirds’ famous Rendezvous Barbecue Nachos. These are the ballpark barbecue nachos against which all other ballpark barbecue nachos are judged.

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Abigail sampled the nachos as well, offering a review even more succinct than her first.

040“When she ignores you and keeps eating, it’s generally a good sign,” said Bob.

Next, and last, was a bacon-wrapped pork chop on a stick served on a bed of beans, rice and sausage.

042I cannot confirm with complete certainty that the above item is gluten-free, as Eric was not sure about what was contained in the sauce. However, I could not resist giving this a try. Eat now, die later.

043The bacon-wrapped pork chop did not kill me, though perhaps it did bring me closer to death. My notes, barely decipherable as usual, report that the pork chop was a little dry, but that it “mixed well with the bacon, complementary flavors.” The beans and rice, meanwhile, were “well-spiced and flavorful.”

“Well-spiced and flavorful” — just like every post that I create for this, the greatest Minor League Baseball blog of all time. Thank you, as always, for supporting (or at least tolerating) the greatness.

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