Tagged: designated eater

On the Road: Ribs and Donut Burgers in Sacramento

To see all posts from my August 1 visit to the Sacramento River Cats, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” 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).

Heading into my West Coast road trip, I was shocked and borderline appalled that no one had volunteered to be my designated eater in Sacramento. I expect that in smaller markets — your Princeton, West Virginia’s and what have you — but California’s capital city? Perhaps my reach, which I assumed to be vaster than a 1001 galaxies, is less than I thought.

Nonetheless, I still had a designated eater in Sacramento. Two, in fact. They were recruited by the River Cats.

Kyle Moses is on the left, Mike Hager is on the right.

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Kyle and Mike are the best of pals. They’re both from Tracy, California (about an hour south of Sacramento) and have been fans of the River Cats ever since the team arrived on the scene in the year 2000. Kyle and Mike grew up together, played with and against one another in various sports and now work together (at Rise Medical Staffing). Oh, and they’re roommates. There’s a picture in their living room of the two of them in their travel team baseball uniforms, hanging out in a Raley Park suite.

And now, they’re designated eaters together, tasked with the job of consuming the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits. But speaking of gluten-free, the River Cats food and beverage team (led, in this case, by sous chef Ryan) whipped up a few dishes for me.

There was shrimp and broccoli over rice, enlivened with pepper flakes.

img_0005There were also lettuce wraps, with citrus brine turkey, apple cider vinegar mustard and tomatoes.

img_0006I enjoyed both of these items, but the lettuce wrap was particularly excellent, a great mix of texture and flavors. Everything was a blur at this point. The food was being placed before us and taken away at a rate that was making my head spin.

So let’s get back to Kyle and Mike, as they’re the stars of the show here. Or perhaps the real star of the show is this plate of barbecue ribs.

img_0007Have at it, guys:

Kyle immediately praised the sauce, which chef Ryan said was Sweet Baby Ray’s.

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“The meat falls right off the bone,” said Mike. “Barbecue is where I can be most critical, but this is prime.”

Mike can be critical of barbecue because Mike is a true barbecue aficionado. He bases road trips around visiting restaurants and does it himself in the backyard. This is a passion he inherited from his father, a regular in barbecue competitions and former manager of a Kinders restaurant (a California-based barbecue chain).

Next up was a turkey cheddar panini (with bacon), served with house made chips and a French onion dipping sauce. Kyle and Ryan can be seen brandishing their paninis in the photo at the top of this post.

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“I like the way it’s pressed, it has a nice texture,” said Kyle. “Some places do a mediocre job with that.”

“I didn’t have a problem with it,” said Mike. “Everything was good.”

We then moved on to the piece de resistance, a donut bacon cheeseburger.

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Another view:

img_2210Specifically, this consists of a third-pound never-frozen burger topped with two bacon rounds and tomatoes. The donuts are from a local bakery.

While Mike said he liked the “sweet and saltiness,” Kyle said that if he ordered it again then he’d abstain from the tomato.

“If I’m gonna go with something that’s 800 calories, then I don’t need a tomato,” he said. “The meat, bacon and donut is fantastic. I don’t think it gets better than that.”

img_0013And that was it for Kyle and Mike, best friends until the end.

“I’d get everything again,” said Mike. “I’ve never not been satisfied here with what I’ve gotten. I’ve never left Raley Field hungry.”

***

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On the Road: “Moose” Meat and Smashed Cupcakes in Burlington

To see all posts from my July 4 visit to the Burlington Royals, 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).

As mentioned in the previous post, the Burlington Royals have a concession stand. All teams do.

img_0165But the B-Royals concession scene is not limited to the above area. There is also a tent. This tent is called “Grill 1986,” a reference to the team’s first season of Appy League existence. The grill itself probably hasn’t been around since 1986. Most grills don’t live that long.

img_0184At Grill 1986 I made the acquaintance of one Justin Moody.

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Justin was, of course, my designated eater (the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). He works in Chapel Hill, North Carolina as a paralegeal, but grew up in southwestern Pennsylvania and is, as such, a huge Pirates fan. The first Minor League game he remembers attending was the Greenville, South Carolina-based Capital City Bombers (in 1992 or thereabouts), and he has since visited every park in the Carolinas. Justin’s a regular reader of this blog and said that he “thought it would be fun to join in on your journey, and lend my stomach to you.”

We began with the “Moose Taco”, an item that came into being because the girlfriend of B-Royals’ general manager Ryan Keur thought that was actually the name of Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas.

The “Moose Taco”, truth be told, is more like a “Moose Burrito.”

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Have at it, Justin.

Mikey Morrison, the B-Royals food and beverage overseer, told us that the contents of the Moose Taco “depends on the day.”

img_0188“Today it’s beef with cheese and jalapenos on the side,” he said. “Originally we would spell [the Moose Taco] like his name [Moustakas], but we made it the Moose Taco so that people would know what it is.”

“The pickled jalapenos give a nice little spice to it,” said Justin. “The meat has got a good smoky sear to it. I think it’s a burger patty that’s been cut up, but it’s really good. It eats pretty easily, the only thing in it is meat and cheese. You don’t get slowed down by lettuce or sour cream or whatever.”

Next up was Funnel Fries, marking the second time in as many days that one of my designated eaters consumed them (see also: Yankees, Pulaski).

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Justin cleared his mind and opened his mouth.

img_1987“[The funnel fries] came out nice and warm. Not too oily or greasy, which I really appreciate,” he said. “They’re good and crunchy, with just enough powdered sugar. Sweet, without trying to create a new cavity. Pretty darn good.”

Justin, if you’ve noticed, is pretty darn good at articulating his food thoughts.

The food was washed down with a Red Oak beer, brewed in nearby Whitsett, North Carolina. Morrison explained that the team began offering it at the ballpark in 2015 and that it “quickly became a best seller.”

img_0194Justin described it as a “good red or brown ale…crisp and refreshing on a hot day. It’s got a good malt flavor to it. It’s one of my favorites, actually.”

Another local favorite on offer at the ballpark are cupcakes courtesy of Burlington’s Main Street Cake Shoppe.

img_1992Justin’s wife, Meghan, was also at the ballgame. For most of my time with Justin, she elected to remain in her seat and keep score (not a bad decision at all). But Justin recruited her to come to our grill-side location to help him consume the cupcake.
img_2013Perhaps inevitably, Justin ended up getting his just desserts.

“It’s nice and soft,” said Justin. “I’d say it’s pretty much the perfect cupcake, though a lot of it ended up on my face.”

Indeed, it did.

img_0192Despite suffering this dessert-based indignity, Justin had nothing but good things to say about his designated eating experience.

“There’s nothing wild or outrageous,” he said, of the Burlington concession scene. “Just really good basic ballpark food, and I appreciate that they’re supporting local businesses.”

***

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On the Road: Funnel Fries and Chicken Fingers in Pulaski

To see all posts from my July 2 visit to the Pulaski Yankees, 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).

This man’s name is Thomas Panek. But you don’t need to call him by his full first name.

“Tom is fine,” he told me.

img_0091Tom was more than fine on this Saturday evening at Pulaski’s Calfee Park, as he had the duty and privilege of being my designated eater (the individual recruited to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits).

His ballpark dinner was obtained from this concession stand, where one’s chances of getting hit by a foul ball are decidedly slim.

img_0071This is what was obtained. (Not shown: a bag of peanuts with an accompanying brown paper bag for the shells).

img_0080There’s nothing too out-of-the-ordinary in the above photo, though it is an impressive array for a Rookie-level team operating out of an 81-year-old ballpark (albeit an 81-year-old ballpark that has been extensively renovated in recent years).

Before moving to an individual rundown of the items in question, let’s get to know Tom. Originally from Toledo, he now lives in Christiansburg, Virginia and works at Tetra, the Blacksburg, Virginia-based fish food and supply company. At Tetra, Tom makes algae-controlling pond blocks.

“I’m the only one making them, so if you see a Tetra pond block, that’s me,” he said. “I make them in a room, by myself. I love it. We sell a ton of them. I know I make a lot of them.”

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Made by Tom Panek

Tom moved to Virginia after meeting his wife, Beth, via an online backgammon game.

“We became friends, I visited her, we dated a little bit and the next thing you know we got married,” he said.

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Tom and Beth

“I was a Navy brat,” said Beth, who works in a domestic violence center. “So I said, ‘I’m not moving. If you’re interested in being with me, then come to me.'”

So here we are. All caught up and with Tom about to dig into some funnel cake fries.

img_0081Have at it, Tom.

“They’re good, but not as crunchy as I thought they’d be,” said Tom. “They’re different.”

We then moved on to the nachos.

img_0084“What can you say about nachos?” asked Tom, before proceeding to say something about them. “They’re basic and good. I like when the chips get soggy because the cheese inundates them completely.”

Beth was a big fan of the chicken fingers, saying that they were “really crunchy, with a thick crust and hot, tender chicken. All white meat. They didn’t need sauce. They were flavorful on their own.”

img_0082These, I believe, were called Yankee Fries. They differ from normal fries in that they have a potato chip-like shape as well as eternal dignity and honor of the “Yankees” name.

img_0083I can’t confirm that these Yankee fries were gluten-free, so I shouldn’t have eaten one. I just got caught up in the moment and, hey, we’ve all gotta die eventually.

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I would also like to note that I snapped a photo of the team’s collectible cups. This one’s for you, #cupdate aficionados.

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Finally, there was dessert. From the following array of ice cream flavors, Tom and Beth selected English Toffee and Classic Cherry.

img_0097Soon enough, check marks on a piece of paper became reality.

img_0096Tom declared the ice cream to be “very tasty, but kind of plain.” Beth said that she was surprised that the English toffee was “a syrup base rather than a topping, but it tastes good.”

Thanks, Tom and Beth, for surveying the Calfee Park culinary scene.

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***

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On the Road: A Winning Oscar Performance in Bluefield

To see all posts from my July 1 visit to the Bluefield Blue Jays, 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).

If you want to get some food at a Bluefield Blue Jays game — and who wouldn’t? — then this is the place to get it.

img_0012As for where to eat it, you’ve got options. One strong contender is this beer garden, which was added to the ballpark three years ago. Alcohol at Appalachian League games is, at most locales, a relatively recent phenomenon (two teams, Elizabethton and Princeton, still do not serve it).

img_0011On this pleasant Friday evening, I made the acquaintance of longtime Bluefield baseball supporter Oscar Miller. Oscar was my designated eater for the evening, tasked with consuming the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.

img_0026Oscar grew up in nearby Bramwell, West Virginia, where he played basketball as a member of his high school’s “Bramwell Millionaires” basketball team. That team is famed for its undefeated 1967 season, which marked the first campaign in which white and black players played together. Oscar told me that, the year previous, neither the all-white or all-black Millionaires team won a game.

As for why this team was called the “Millionaires” in the first place, Oscar explained that, at one point, Bramwell had more millionaires per capita than any town in the United States. This was due to the rapid rise of the coal industry.

Oscar is a veteran of the Vietnam war who went on to serve 11 years in the Air Force, five in the Navy and then, finally, three more “at home” while in the National Guard. After his military career he became what he calls a “jack of all trades,” working all sorts of jobs at locales around the country. At one point he even took care of an elephant.

“I was in Charleston, West Virginia, and I was looking for a job,” he said. “This guy said, ‘Well, do you want to go on the road?’ You just have to feed [the elephant], buy him grain, care for it. The hardest thing was water. You can’t imagine how much water an elephant can drink. Just about a barrel full. But you could put 18 kids on an elephant, and it was two minutes a ride. If you’ve got an elephant, then you’re making money.”

Through it all, Oscar has always been a baseball fan. He called the sport his “first love”, and went on to play right field and, occasionally, pitch as a youth player. His biggest baseball hero is Hank Aaron, and he is a huge fan of the Cleveland Indians. He’s a member of the Bluefield Blue Jays Booster Club, and attends just about every game at Bowen Field.

Tonight, Oscar’s ballpark meal would be a chili dog along with a “Big Whiskey Barbecue Sandwich,” a new offering courtesy of a partnership with Bluefield’s Big Whiskey BBQ.

img_0023Oscar began with the Big Whiskey, which he had never had before.

“I’m surprised, it’s got a bourbon-like taste to it,” said Oscar, whose favorite local barbecue meal is ribs at The Railyard. “There’s a little bit of honey to it and it’s hot. It’s spicy. I’d get it again.”

img_0024Next up was the Chili Dog, an item that Oscar has enjoyed on hundreds (thousands?) of occasions.

img_0025“The chili dogs are delicious, I get ’em every night. And usually a popcorn, water and Gatorade,” he said. “The meat is real beef, and that helps. I don’t want to eat a hot dog if there’s any suspicion that it’s pork. Just beef.”

During the intervals of our time together when his mouth wasn’t full, I enjoyed hearing about Oscar’s various talents and life experiences. He plays the melodica and, on occasion, writes poetry. He proudly showed me his poem, Your World, which originally appeared in the Bramwell Aristocrat newspaper.

img_0028As Oscar and I spoke, I sipped on a soda. And, yes, this soda was in a souvenir cup that I duly photographed for all you #Cupdate aficionados out there.

img_0030As our time together was winding down, Oscar bought a sizable amount of 50-50 raffle tickets.

“You want an arm’s length,” he said.

img_0029“I enjoyed talking to you,” said Oscar, as we parted ways. “[Bowen Field has] got a really good atmosphere, going on for quite some time. It’s always been a place I want to be. It’s a part of life here, I guess you could say.”

img_1789***

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On the Road: Loving the Bologna in Elizabethton

To see all posts from my June 29 visit to the Elizabethton Twins, 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). 

As befits a Rookie-level team working out of a small, city-owned ballpark, the Elizabethton Twins offer a fairly limited range of concessions. But what they do, they do well. I learned this during the evening I spent at the team’s Joe O’Brien Field, where the food offerings are served out of “Miss Jane’s Hardball Cafe.”

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I did not sample the food offerings myself, of course. That task fell to Mr. Daniel Buck, my designated eater for the evening. It would be Daniel’s task to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.

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Daniel, who lives in Elizabethton, is a truck driver. He runs the same route each day, working from 4:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., driving from Elizabethton to Roanoke, Virginia and back. He delivers tires while putting significant wear on his own, traveling approximately 1850 miles a week. His route includes stops in locales such as Marion, Chilihowie and Saltville (which, as he pointed out, was “the salt capital of the Confederacy“). Daniel was at the ballgame with his wife, Jennifer, and two and a half-month old grandbaby, Nariah. Yes, grandbaby. (Daniel is the same age as me, and he has a granddaughter. For me to attain grandfather status, I’d have to have some kids first.)

Food and beverage director Bruce Miller presented Daniel with two E-Twins specialties: the Fried Crown Bologna sandwich ($3) and a bratwrust ($4).

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Daniel began with the bologna.

Bruce, who’s been the food and beverage director for seven years, explained that he prioritizes “good stuff and good products” and that the bologna is no exception.

“I get it from a meat company, you can’t buy it like this,” he said, while declining to name the company in question. “They make it for me, cuts that are as big as a hamburger. There’s five or six ounces of bolognan[in each sandwich], and I put a little butter on the bread.”

Daniel was an instantaneous fan of the bologna.

“Well, it was gone fast,” he said, after polishing it off in a matter of minutes. “It wasn’t overcooked, and cut thick. I can’t make ’em like that. I’m breaking out in a sweat, it was so good. That was a Carter County steak, right there.”

Next up was the bratwurst.

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“It’s what you’d expect from a good ol’ ballpark bratwurst,” said Daniel. “It’s got a kick to it. I still love the bologna a little better and that’s saying something.”

img_0203This was all washed down with eastern Tennessee’s “energy drink” of choice, Dr. Enuf. If you’re in the region, you really owe it to yourself to get a Dr. Enuf. It’s got less distribution than Cheerwine, but beloved by those in the know.

img_1708Daniel wasn’t quite done yet. Dessert was deep-fried Oreos topped with vanilla ice cream.

img_0207Are you jealous?

As the above six seconds of video documentation makes clear, Daniel was a fan of the Oreos. More broadly, he was a big fan of all that was served to him during his time in this Joe O’Brien Field “Sky Box.”

“The food’s awesome,” is how he summed it up.

For that, we have Bruce to thank. I caught up with him later in the day and took this picture:

img_1725Thanks, Bruce! And thanks, Daniel.

***

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On the Road: Simple, Cheap and Nostalgic in Bristol

To see all posts from my June 28 visit to the Bristol Pirates, 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). 

As one would expect from a Rookie-level ballpark operated by volunteers, the concession stand offerings at Bristol’s Boyce Cox Field are fairly limited. The “Fred and Brenda Scott” concession stand is located below the press box, facing outwards toward the field, and staffed by members of community organizations who receive a portion of the evening’s proceeds.

img_0156The view from the concession stand is a good one.

img_0157On this evening my designated eater was a man by the name of Todd Hare. (“Just like a rabbit,” he said of his last name.) It would be his job to consume the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.

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Todd, an Episcopalian priest and father of four, has been in the ministry for the past 21 years. For the past three years he has been based in Johnson City, working with the congregation of the Holy Trinity Church. This has been a homecoming of sorts for Todd, as he grew up in Bristol. And, growing up in Bristol, he was a regular attendee of ballgames at Boyce Cox Field.

“I would come to a lot of games as a kid, when they were [a Detroit Tigers affiliate],” said Todd. “I saw guys like Lance Parrish, Jim Leyland, Darryl Strawberry and Terry Pendleton. I grew up just beyond left field and used to sit behind the fence. These games are sentimental for me.”

Todd and I spent a whopping $6 at the concession stand, which netted us a Frito pie-like “Crow’s Nest” ($3), Chili Dog ($2) and a bottled water ($1). We then convened to the beer garden located down the third base line, a relatively new addition to Boyce Cox Field (which, like most Appy League ballparks, didn’t start selling beer until recently).

img_0160Todd began with the chili dog.

“The chili here comes from the meat market that’s been here since my childhood,” said Todd. “Malcolm’s Meat Market. I grew up knowing the family that owned it, played baseball with their kids in Little League.”

He continued, “It’s spicy, has a little heat but not overpowering. It’s very, very similar to the hot dogs served at the Little League right by the field here, and same as the [adjacent] stadium where I played high school football. It’s a very familiar hot dog.”

Todd finishes up his "very familiar" chili dog.

Todd finishes up his “very familiar” chili dog.

My attempts to find out why the “Crow’s Nest” was named as such were unsuccessful. But it’s a great $3 snack — Fritos topped with salsa, sour cream, shredded cheese, chili and jalapenos.

img_0162“I haven’t had one here, but I’m a really big fan,” said Todd. “There’s just the right amount of cheese and chili.”

Of course, Todd’s brief culinary excursion was highlighted by being within one of his all-time favorite environments.

img_0164“I love the simplicity of a hot dog, mustard and relish, or a chili dog,” he said. “There’s something about hot dogs, peanuts, Cracker Jacks and cold beer or a Coca-Cola that takes me back to childhood and all the smells associated with growing up around this park. It’s real nostalgic.”

***

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On the Road: Classics with a Twist in Greeneville

To see all posts from my June 25 visit to the Greeneville Astros, 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 man in the below photo, his name is Curt Collins.

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Curt is a lawyer based in Greeneville, Tennessee. He has his own law firm, specializing in Family Law, Criminal Law and, as his website points out, “more.” But Curt is a man of many talents, not all of them relegated to the courtroom. During the evening I spent at the Greeneville Astros’ home of Pioneer Park, Curt served as my designated eater (you know, the individual recruited to consume the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits).

You had probably already guessed that Curt was my designated eater, given that, in the above photo, he is posing in front of a formidable spread. He and I (and his wife, Aly, who will appear later) were in a Pioneer Park suite, and Curt is no stranger to such environs. He and Aly attend approximately half of the team’s games, and Curt advertises with the club via a recurring between-inning skit featuring the hapless “Convict Carl.” Fans are advised that if they, like Convict Carl, make a bad decision then Curt is the man to call for legal representation.

But anyway, let’s get back to that spread. The Astros’ concessions are handled by Sodexo, which also provides food service for Tusculum College (Pioneer Park is located on the Tusculum campus). In the below photo there are two (2) of each of the following items: The High Heat Burger, Astro Dog, Corn Dog, and Nachos Supreme (in a team-logo helmet).

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We began with the High Heat Burger. Said heat is brought via Cajun seasoning, pepper jack cheese and the team’s “High Heat” sauce (it’s mayo-based, with some hot peppers in the mix).

IMG_0033Have at it, Curt.

Curt said that the High Heat “had a good flavor to it” but that “you have to like spicy.” Curt likes spicy. He gave it an eight, on what I assume was a 10-point scale.

Next up was the Astro Dog: a hot dog wrapped in brown sugar-crusted bacon and topped with chipotle mayo, tomato, fried onions and a dill pickle spear.

IMG_0034Curt’s love for the Astro Dog is as boundless as the great outdoors. He had to move out of the suite in order to fully appreciate it.

IMG_0035“This is my favorite,” said Curt. “It’s such a good mix of flavors. The fried onions make a difference, and you can’t go wrong with bacon on a hot dog. The brown sugar gives it a little sweetness, and the brown sugar mixed with the chipotle mayo is such a unique combination. That’s what really makes it. The weirdest part is the tomato. I don’t think I’d miss them.”

The next item on the docket was a corn dog.

IMG_0037“It’s a classic corn dog,” said Curt. “I don’t want to say anything negative, but I guess you need the truth: It’s not hand-dipped. It tastes like something I could make in a microwave.”

Another item to consume necessitated another location change. Here, Curt poses with his Nachos Supreme in front of the concession stand from which it can be obtained.

IMG_0043These nachos are made “supreme” via the addition of cheese, chili, sour cream, tomatoes and jalapenos. Curt said that while they were “loaded nachos, for sure,” they were “not loaded down with too much chili to where the chips get soggy. I’m getting to the bottom and they’re all still crispy.”

When we returned to the suite, Astros general manager David Lane was waiting for us with even more helmet-based cuisine.

IMG_0044These ice cream sundaes included both vanilla and chocolate ice cream and were topped with berries, nuts, chocolate syrup and whipped cream. For dessert, Curt was joined by his wife, Aly.

IMG_0049Kurt and Aly met on July 4th, 2012, but didn’t start dating until a year later. They were married this past May. Aly works for the local Boys and Girls Club, which regularly partners with the Astros on community-minded events.

The newlyweds enjoyed their sundaes.

IMG_0051Kurt declared dessert to be “fantastic,” and not just because he got to share it with his beautiful bride.

“It’s like the ultimate sundae,” he said.

And thus concluded this latest adventure in designated eating.

“I don’t want to keep using the word ‘classic’, but that’s exactly what they’ve got here,” said Curt. “Good, classic food.”

***

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On the Road: Bologna, Barbecue and Blooper! in Danville

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.

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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.

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Well, then have at it!

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.

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“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.

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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!

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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.

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Before moving on to the BBQ Dog, Brooke and Mary sent me on an important errand.

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.

IMG_0149A new food item calls for a new pose.

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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.

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And me? I’m just here for the popcorn.

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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.

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“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.

***

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! 

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On the Road: Winged Pigs and Whiskered Fish in Zebulon

To see all my posts from my May 13 visit to the Carolina Mudcats, click HERE. To see all my posts from my May 2016 Carolinas 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).

This guy right here, holding meat in both hands, his name is Sherman Gillespie.

036Sherman lives in Garner, North Carolina, a town located south of Raleigh. He has worked 25 years in the Raleigh police department, holding down a variety of positions through the years. Currently he is a “school resource officer sergeant,” overseeing the officers who are placed within high schools throughout the city.

Sherman is also, not surprisingly, a big Minor League Baseball fan. He is a native of Shelby, North Carolina, and annually takes time off in order to volunteer at the American Legion World Series held at historic Keeter Stadium. Sherman attends approximately 10 Carolina Mudcats games each season and also goes on Minor League ballpark trips with his family. At this particular game  — Friday, May 13th, for those keeping score at home — he was accompanied by his 13-year-old son, Carson.

I am writing about Sherman because he had volunteered to be my designated eater — you know, the individual recruited to eat the ballpark foods that my gluten-free diet prohibits. (The Mudcats do a good job with gluten-free offerings, with GF chicken tenders, Red Bridge beer and GF buns on request. Food and beverage director Dwayne Lucas told me that “Anytime someone has an allergy, we try our best. It’s about accommodating it as many people as possible.”)

Sherman’s culinary journey began with two items I had procured from the concourse-level “Grand Slam BBQ Stand”: Pig Wings ($10) and a Carnitas Tacos platter ($8).

We began with the Pig Wings (aka pork shanks), which Sherman is holding in the above picture. They were accompanied by an order of fries, which tasted spectacular — thick, crispy and dusted with Old Bay seasoning.

033Have at it, Sherman.

“It’s not bad,” said Sherman. “It’s like a chicken wing with a lot more meat. It’s juicy. Tastes just like a chicken thigh, but like eating ribs.”

From there it was on to the Carnitas Tacos platter.

034“The vegetables give it a crunch, it tastes fresh, the meat’s tender and it’s got a good flavor,” said Sherman, who had a lot to chew on.

039Seeing that we were attending a “Mudcats” game, it was only fitting to then get a Catfish Po’Boy ($5). The catfish was crispy and well-cooked, but the accoutrements a little lacking.

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“It’s hot and crunchy, but doesn’t have a lot of flavor,” said Sherman. “It just needs more seasoning.”

As the catfish was being consumed, Sherman was visited by some of his Raleigh PD school resources colleagues. Sherman is their boss, but they were giving him a jovial hard time about all sorts of things and I’m sure they’ll enjoy the pictures in this post. Sherman’s son, Carson, is on the left in the Reading Fightin Phils cap.

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And with that, my time with Sherman and his pals ended. And with this sentence, my Carolinas trip blog posts are now complete. Thanks to all those who’ve followed along, and stay tuned for plenty of posts from my imminent Appalachian League trip.

***

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On the Road: A Culinary Journey in Columbia

To see all my posts from my May 12 visit to the Columbia Fireflies, click HERE. To see all my posts from my May 2016 Carolinas 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).

At each Minor League ballpark I visit, I recruit a designated eater to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits. At Columbia’s brand-new Spirit Communications Park, that individual was 16-year-old Carter Blackmon. Carter was attending the game with his Dad, Nathan, a well-known (some would say legendary) figure in the world of Minor League Baseball. He spent eight seasons (1997-2004) as the International League’s assistant to the president before transitioning to a then-fledgling website by the name of MiLB.com. Nathan, officially, is the site’s “director of MiLB initiatives.” If you work in Minor League Baseball, then you probably know him.

049Now let’s get to know Carter, who lives with his Mom and Dad and two sisters (one of whom is his twin) in the town of Waxhaw, North Carolina. Carter is licensed to drive, plays offensive tackle for his high school Parkwood Rebels and says a “perfectly cooked cheeseburger” is his favorite food. Carter also told me that he “likes” to fish, which prompted his Dad to say, “Like to fish? You fish at least three days a week. It’s more than ‘liking.'” Carter then conceded that he loves to fish, and proudly showed pictures of some of his latest bass conquests from the ponds of Waxhaw. The biggest bass he’s caught in the region was eight and a half pounds.

Fish wouldn’t be on the menu tonight, but barbecue was. With Fireflies VP of marketing Abby Naas serving as our guide, we began our journey at the Fireflies’ “Low N Slow” cart.

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From this cart, Carter was given a pair of sandwiches. The Pulled Pork is topped with a sweet and spicy barbecue sauce, utilizing a recipe developed by Fireflies president John Katz. The Beef Brisket has a tangy “Carolina Gold” sauce.

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Have at it, Carter.

“Oh, dang. That’s good,” said Carter, of the pulled pork. “The sauce is excellent — sweet with a little bit of tang at the end.”

He was an even bigger fan of the brisket, as he deemed the Carolina Gold sauce to be “too good for words.”

“If I had to use one word, it’d be ‘extravaganza’,” he continued, after giving the semantics a lot of thought. “It’s like a little mustard and a little barbecue thrown into one.”

Carter is a barbecue aficionado and says that if you’re ever in Waxhaw (hey, you never know), then Jo Jo’s and the Rock Store are both good places to check out. After prompting from his ever-watchful father, he added that “Mom and Dad’s is also a pretty good place to eat.”

Next up was a pair of tacos from the “El Toros” stand, so-named because “toro” means “bull” and the Fireflies’ Spirit Communications Park is located on Bull Street.

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“We go to Salsarita’s a lot, so I’m experienced with tacos,” said Carter, referring to the Mexican restaurant chain. “I love tacos.”

He then showed his love for tacos by tearing right into one. I believe it had chicken in it, while the other one had pork.

064Carter declared the pork taco to be superior, because the “meat was better seasoned” and had an overall “bolder flavor.” Eating the pork taco also led to an important culinary discovery.

“The black beans made it good, too, and usually I have tacos with no beans,” he added.

At this juncture I was called away from my designated eating duties to participate in a karaoke contest atop the dugout. I featured this video in my last post and I’ll feature it again here, as it was one of the greatest triumphs of my life.

The above contest was hosted by Fireflies executive vice president Brad Shank, and upon returning to Carter and Nathan I found that Pork Shank (no relation) was waiting for us. Pork Shank was joined by Tri-Tip Sandwich. Both are available in the upper-level suites.

066 I asked Carter to pose with the tri-tip in the same manner in which he would pose in his football uniform. Focused, determined, unstoppable.

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Carter said the tri-tip “had a nice crust around the meat. The grilled onions were great, and the sauce excellent.”

As for the shanks, I went ahead and tried ’em myself. Carter, meanwhile, played the role of cinematographer.

“Very meaty,” it says in my notes. “Not much seasoning. Tender. Overwhelming.”

(I assume I was writing about the shanks there, and not brainstorming the “About Me” section of my online dating profile.)

Carter was unable to eat dessert, unfortunately, as he still has five years to go before he can legally sample Mocha Chocolate Moonshine and Caramel Moonshine ice cream. This creamy alcoholic dairy product is produced locally by JB’s Pr%f.

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Nathan, ever-helpful, was happy to step in.

Nathan’s impish grin in the above Vine pretty well sums up how the moonshine ice cream tasted.

Speaking of summing up: Carter said that, when it came to the designated eating experience, “Shoot, I don’t have any words. It left me speechless. I started to like new things. It was a journey of discovery.”

And that, at the end of the day, is what it’s all about. Shanks for everything, Carter.

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***

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