Tagged: Jacksonville Suns 2015

Return to the Road: From Parts Unknown to Five Points

Part One of this Florida-based “Return to the Road” saga covered my non-ballpark wanderings in the general area of Bradenton, Tampa and St. Petersburg. Part Two focused on my visit to Minor League Baseball headquarters in St. Petersburg. This, Part Three, covers the final section of April’s trip through the Sunshine State.

We begin on April 15, when I visited — you guessed it — a record store. This one is located in the greater Palm Beach area, but here’s the thing: I no longer remember where, exactly, I was or what this record store was called. I’m sure a helpful reader — most likely Ed Pelegrino — will soon fill me in.

IMG_0923This particular record store was quite expansive. I got a copy of Sparks “A Woofer in Tweeter’s Clothing” for, like $7 bucks. Great deal, and if you’re a fan of Sparks then you’re a friend of mine. I also bought “Use Your Illusion II” on CD, as part of my ongoing effort to own all Guns N’ Roses albums in all formats.

Fascinating stuff, right? The next several days, as I made my way through Vero Beach, St. Lucie and Brevard County, are similarly bereft of non-ballpark related materials. At one point I went to a Vietnamese restaurant in St. Lucie and was dismayed to find that their pork chops were off the bone and of a weirdly pinkish hue.

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I do remember that, after attending April 18’s Brevard County Manatees game, I was craving Buffalo Wild Wings. The closest one was, like, 20 miles away, so I called in my order and then made the drive there on Route 95. When I got there, my order wasn’t ready and, in fact, they hadn’t even started it yet.

But all’s well that end’s well. On these road trips I’m overwhelmed with details and often lost within my own manic mind, and sometimes a meal like this in a hotel room represents the pinnacle of relaxation and luxury.

IMG_1027I mean, just look how happy I was.

IMG_1028After eating my dinner, I found this Man of Steel Blu-Ray underneath a chair. I did not take it, because I do not know what a Blu-Ray is, and superhero movies are uniformly terrible (there are no exceptions to this rule).

IMG_1029Nonetheless, I was inspired to go out into the lobby and create a superhero of my own. I am Feline Man, who travels with his trusty sidekick, Cobra Guy, fighting bad guys up and down the dangerous back roads of Brevard County.

IMG_1025The following day, April 19, was one of the busiest and multi-faceted days that I enjoyed while on the road this season. I got up bright and early and got on good ol’ 95, barreling toward Jacksonville. As I did when en route to Pensacola in 2012, I stopped at one of the infinitely appealing roadside tourist traps.

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IMG_1031Florida citrus —  believe the hype! It is remarkable how much more flavor it has, when consumed at peak freshness. And there is a variety beyond what one can find at grocery stores in other parts of the country.

IMG_1032In the early afternoon, I arrived at Jacksonville’s Budweiser brewery.

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Why was I here? Because there is a reason for everything.

The night before, while emailing Suns staff about logistics related to my imminent visit, Suns box office manager (and seamstress!) Theresa Viets said I should stop by the brewery’s parking lot food truck fest if I had the time.

IMG_1036I enjoyed a typically healthy road trip lunch…

IMG_1037…but food wasn’t the reason I stopped by. Theresa’s recommendation was based on the fact that Grandpa’s Cough Medicine, one of her favorite local bands, was playing.

IMG_1034Early afternoon on a hot summer’s day is definitely not an ideal time for a band like Grandpa’s Cough Medicine, whose incredibly adept bluegrass blazers are best suited to late whisky nights. But, regardless, I was amazed at how good these guys are; incredible finger-picking skills, clever and often darkly humorous lyrics and an innate chemistry that can only be honed by playing live on a regular basis.

Here’s the title track off of their latest album, which I bought right after they finished playing (to a disinterested, sun-baked audience). I mean, my goodness. This band deserves a much wider profile.

I still had about two hours before my scheduled arrival at the ballpark, so I drove from the brewery to Jacksonville’s Five Points neighborhood.

IMG_1055Five Points is named for the Five Points intersection, which, as its name suggests, represents the confluence of five roads. This is not a good photo, but here you go.

IMG_1041I parked on a nearby residential street, who knows where, and walked past “Troops of Time” en route to bustling Park Street. I really should have gone inside. Despite being a longtime Martika fan, I’ve never visited a toy soldier store.

IMG_1039Prior to my trip, Jacksonville native (and current Charleston Riverdogs operations director) Philip Guiry sent me an email extolling the virtues of the neighborhood. It read, in part:

5 Points, just north and west of downtown and The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, has Deep Search Records, a bar called Rain Dogs, a weird beer/misc. store called Cask, another bar called Starlight, I think? And a dope movie theater (Sun-Ray), a one screen joint with beer, pizza, indie movies, live shows, and Hollywood movies, too.

It also has Wall Street, which is my favorite dive in Jax.

IMG_1042The Sun-Ray Cinema:

IMG_1045I really enjoyed poking around Fans and Stoves, which was filled with all manner of interesting cultural detritus. I walked out of there with some old postcards and a vintage MAD magazine.

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IMG_1046Deep Search Records:

IMG_1051It was National Record Store Day, so Deep Search was hopping. I bought the recent double LP reissue of the Melvins “Lysol” and “Eggnog”, as well as Dio’s “Sacred Heart” on cassette.

IMG_1053And, though the date had passed, I was happy to see this flyer on my way out the door. Go see the Baseball Project live. They’re great.

IMG_1054And, well, that’ll do it for my “Return to the Road” recap of April’s trip to the Sunshine State. Stay tuned for similar material throughout the remainder of the offseason. You’ll be glad you did. Or at least I think you’ll be glad. Who really does know? I sure don’t.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: Elated and Inflated in Jacksonville

To see all of my posts from this visit to the Jacksonville Suns (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my April 2015 Florida trip, click HERE. To see all of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

This is the end! The last post from the last stop on my season-opening Florida ballpark road trip. I’m feeling a little loopy as I write this — it’s been a long day and I leave for my next trip tomorrow morning — but not as loopy as I felt while watching the Jacksonville Suns host the Montgomery Biscuits on this wet Saturday night in April.

080My old pals the Zooperstars! were in town.

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Things always get weird when the Zooperstars! are in town. Even when! I’m writing about the Zooperstars! things get weird, as I start! putting exclamation marks in all the wrong! places.

Southpaw was like “Oh, man, how can I compete with those inflatable dancing weirdos?”

IMG_1075“That was a rhetorical question,” Southpaw continued. “But I’ll answer it anyway. I can’t compete with those inflatable dancing weirdos. I just can’t. I’m outta here.”

IMG_1076Upon re-emerging on the concourse, I paid a visit to Pedro Bragan’s concourse “Chairman’s Box.” Here, he poses with his “Victory Bell,” a locomotive bell presented to his father, Peter Bragan Sr., by CSX Transportation.

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Considering that this game was preceded by a 102-minute rain delay, Pedro was satisfied with how many fans stuck around.

“That’s the power of the Zooperstars!,” he said. (The exclamation mark is part of the Zooperstars! name. Do not mistake its inclusion in the preceding quote for irrational exuberance on the part of Pedro.)

And when that Victory Bell rings, you can hear it everywhere. Even here, in the rain-soaked bleacher section.

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085While I was out here in the bleacher wilderness, I enjoyed the kind of ballpark snack you just can’t find where I’m from: Salt and Vinegar Pork Rinds and Sweet Tea from the Front Porch Kettle Corn kiosk.

That’ll be it for Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville food coverage, as my designated eater (you know, the individual who eats the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits) canceled. My attempts to get a new one failed. A lot of people showed interest on Twitter, but no one sent the email that I require. That’s all I ask for: an email. Courteous, conscientious communication. How hard is that?

Anyhow, here’s a photo of one of the concession stands. It’s the best I can do right now.

074After finishing my pork rinds and sweet tea, I continued my slow lap around the concourse. The game seemed like it was a million miles away.

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Here I am approaching the scoreboard. Repeat: Approaching the scoreboard.

090I had never been so close to a pitch clock before.

I believe that this interesting little left field protrusion is called “The Knuckle.”

094The Knuckle is at the intersection of Amen Circle and Home Run Alley.

095Once I made it back to the seating bowl, I happened upon my old Zooperstar! pal Harry Canary. He had just sung the seventh-inning stretch and needed to let off some steam.

(This is my most-watched Vine of all time.)

Harry then sprayed me with silly string. This is just the sort of thing Harry does. I’m think I’m going to use this as my new online dating profile pic.

IMG_1092I watched the end of the game in close proximity to Bragan’s “Chairman’s Box.”

100But the Victory Bell remained silent on this evening — the Biscuits won the ballgame.

101Thus concluded my time in Jacksonville and thus concluded my season-opening Florida road trip. I’m hitting the road again tomorrow.

See you soon, Midwest.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: A Long Reign and a Long Rain in Jacksonville

To see all of my posts from this visit to the Jacksonville Suns (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my April 2015 Florida trip, click HERE. To see all of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

I arrived at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville hours before that evening’s Suns game was supposed to be played. Therefore, I was able to snag a primo parking place. A very long home run to left field could smash the windshield, but, hey, whatever, it’s a rental car. YOLO.

001 The area surrounding the ballpark is kind of schizophrenic. The Jacksonville Jaguars’ home of EverBank Field is located just down the street.

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On the Road: Exploring the Past in Jacksonville

To see all of my posts from this visit to the Jacksonville Suns (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my April 2015 Florida trip, click HERE. To see all of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

On the eighth and final stop of my season-opening Florida ballpark road trip, I finally busted out of the confines of the Florida State League. Specifically, I headed north to Jacksonville to see the Suns. This was a significant stop for me. Not only was it the culmination of a fairly grueling road trip, but I have now visited every Minor League ballpark in Florida (the entirety of the 12-team Florida State League as well as Pensacola and Jacksonville).

Sunshine State, complete!

010The Suns, Double-A affiliate of the Florida Marlins, have played at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville since 2003. But we’ll get to that facility over the next two posts of this series. My afternoon started with a (metaphorical) trip back in time, to a living relic from Jacksonville’s baseball history: J.P. Small Park.

019For a little bit of background on this truly historic facility, I refer you to this plaque.

037To save your eyes, I’ll type it out:

This site had been the location of baseball and other sports for [over] 100 years. 

The location has been known at different times as Barrs Field, the Myrtle Avenue Ball Park, Joseph H. Durkee Memorial Athletic Field, and since 1980, James P. Small Memorial Stadium. 

The current steel and brick grandstand has basically the same appearance as it did when it was originally designed and constructed in 1935. For 20 years this structure served as the center of professional baseball until a new municipal stadium, the Gator Bowl, opened in 1955. 

The ballpark is located in Jacksonville’s Durkeeville neighborhood. It was originally constructed in 1912, on land owned by neighborhood namesake Joseph H. Durkee. Between 1914 and 1922 it hosted Spring Training for a variety of Major League clubs (Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Athletics). Minor League teams played there intermittently between 1921 and 1961, including the 1953 South Atlantic League Braves. This team, one of the South Atlantic League’s first integrated squads, included Hank Aaron on the roster. Negro League baseball was played here as well, in the form of the Jacksonville Red Caps.

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035I was driven to the stadium by Suns director of security Rob Schoonover (a 33-year law enforcement veteran) and his wife, Jeanne. The visit to J.P. Small Park was motivated by a desire to simply see the facility, but as luck would have it a game was being played there that afternoon. Trinity Baptist College was in the final stages of an 8-2 victory over Edward Waters.

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There was game day entertainment and everything.

031After the contest concluded, I wandered out on to the field.

027The dugouts are small and muddy, so most of the teams’ baseball equipment ended up scattered about the area.

028After the game, Schoonover introduced me to Nick Malpress. He’s been a J.P. Small Ballpark fixture for over 60 years (!)

034Malpress worked as a clubhouse assistant for the 1953 Jacksonville Braves, “shining shoes and getting stuff together.”

“Henry Aaron met his wife here,” he told me. “He and Felix Mantilla were coming out of the dressing room and he saw [future wife] Barbara Lucas walking down the sidewalk. It was just one of them things.”

The ballpark’s current dimensions are a quirky 341 to left, 371 to center and 285 to right, but Malpress remembered players “hitting the ball across the street, when there was a wooden fence all the way around. Hurricane Dora tore that fence down, yeah.”

Malpress has gone on to umpire countless high school and college games at J.P. Small Ballpark, and he attends nearly every Jacksonville Suns game held at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville. But baseball’s not the only sport he’s involved with, as a Google search of his name reveals that he’s spent two decades on the Jacksonville Jaguars “Chain Crew.” He’s a Jacksonville sports icon.

Okay, it’s time for me to move the chains. This post is is the first down; stay tuned for two more, live and direct from the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville.

This quick afternoon detour to J.P. Small Ballpark was an enjoyable one.

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benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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About Last Night: Jacksonville Suns, April 18, 2015

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll be writing a short, on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon returning to New York City’s comforting embrace, I will provide the unimpeachable blog coverage that you have come to know and love. So let’s get to it, lest it get to us!

April 18, 2015 — Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville (Bragan Field), home of the Jacksonville Suns (Double-A affiliate of the Florida Marlins)

Opponent: Montgomery Biscuits, 8:47 p.m. ET start time (after a rain delay of one hour and 42 minutes)

Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, from the outside: 

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The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, from within: 

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Culinary Delight: Salt and Vinegar Pork Rinds and Sweet Tea, from third party ballpark vendor Front Porch Kettle Corn:

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Waiting for the Punch-Vine (my nightly attempt at telling an “original” ballpark joke in six seconds):

Does this count as a joke?

At Random: Suns owner Peter “Pedro” Bragan Jr. in his office

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Last Song Played Over the PA: Procol Harum, “A Whiter Shade of Pale”

Next Up: I AM HOME. Click HERE to see all of my 2015 trip itineraries.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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