Tagged: Kane County Cougars 2015

Return to the Road: Bouncing Between Illinois and Iowa

Earlier this month, I wrote a series of “Return to the Road” posts detailing my non-ballpark experiences during April’s trip to Florida. Today, I’ll move on to similar material, this time centering around late May’s quick jaunt through the Midwest.

May 23 was a whirlwind — an early flight from NYC to Chicago, an extremely long wait for a rental car, a quick hotel check-in and then a jam-packed evening with the Kane County Cougars. It was all a blur, and that feeling persisted into the next morning.

I had no idea which car in the hotel parking lot was mine! I took both of them, just to be sure.

IMG_1222From there it was on to a (rained out) afternoon with the Quad Cities River Bandits, followed by an early evening drive to Clinton, Iowa. At some point during this drive, I took a picture of some amusing rest stop bathroom graffiti. I wish that I could share it with you in full, but this is a family blog (you’re probably reading this with your family right now, as Ben’s Biz is one of the few things that unites the average American family in this fractured media age).

IMG_1223Upon arriving in Clinton, I was hungry. And when I am on the road and hungry, I generally seek out one of four (reliably gluten-free) options: barbecue, Mexican, Vietnamese or Buffalo Wild Wings.

Clinton, a factory town, came through on the Mexican front. This restaurant, as you can see, was in close proximity to a smoking lamppost.


Despite an 80 percent ingredient overlap from dish to dish, El Tapatio had a menu whose length was roughly equivalent to that of the Old Testament.

IMG_1235I don’t remember what I ordered, exactly, but it was, essentially, steak and eggs and rice and beans. Fundamental. (In the below photo, note that I was still reading an Athlon baseball preview magazine in late May. Those things take me forever to get through, as I am one of those obsessive types who reads every word of every page.)

IMG_1236The next morning, May 25, I drove to Clinton’s Eagle Point Park and took a stroll.


002While I had less than an hour in which to wander around the premises, I’m glad that I visited Eagle Park. If you should ever be in Clinton, to see the LumberKings or otherwise, then I suggest that you do so as well. The park overlooks the Mississippi River, which, as it runs past Clinton, is at one of its widest points.

IMG_1241I would have liked to meditate in this location for upwards of three hours, but, as always, duty called. Soon enough, I was on the path back to reality.

006Reality remained a whirlwind, but on the way to see the LumberKings I took the time to pull over and take a photo of Snodgrass Motors.

IMG_1254This brief pit stop was motivated by then-Richmond Flying Squirrels (and now Virginia Tech) broadcaster Jon Laaser, who consistently paid tribute to pitcher Jack Snodgrass via creative use of the “word” Snodgrass.

One of many examples.


After witnessing a Memorial Day doubleheader in Clinton, I drove back to Quad Cities and caught the second game of the River Bandits’ doubleheader against the Chiefs. From there, it was time for a nighttime drive to Peoria so that I would be well-positioned to see those very same Chiefs the following evening.

The second — and final — entry of this Midwest-based “Return to the Road” saga will begin in Peoria. We’ll see how it plays.




On the Road: Heart Attacks and Raging Cougars in Kane County

To see all of my posts from this May 23, 2015 visit to the Kane County Cougars (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Midwest, click HERE. To see all of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

Regarding designated eaters, standard operating procedure calls for one (1) such individual to be recruited at each ballpark I visit. This individual will then consume, and be documented consuming, the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.

But standard operating procedures can be deviated, subverted, tweaked and outright ignored when the situation calls for it. The situation called for it in Kane County, as I recruited not one but — wait for it — two designated eaters.

052That’s David Lesser on the right and, because Lesser is more, Jason Bohn behind him and to the left. I asked both of these gentlemen to be designated eater, simply because they sent me an email asking for the privilege at exactly the same time. Tie goes to the eater.

The Cougars, led by the unstoppable force of hospitality that is public relations director Shawn Touney, provided David and Jason with seating in the new “Strike Zone” area behind home plate. This area includes wait staff service, which was coordinated in this case by food and beverage director Jon Williams.

So what do you have planned for these guys, Jon?

We began with the Heart Attack Burger, described by Jon in the above video as “Two grilled cheese sandwiches. In between that is a half-pound burger, grilled onions, fried egg, two strips of bacon and a bacon-chipotle mayo sauce.”

053Have at it, guys.

Okay, let’s take a moment to meet our designated eaters.


David, a long-ago West Michigan Whitecaps intern, was attending the game with his wife, Kristin. They live in Chicago; he works in the accounting department of a law firm and she as a fifth grade teacher. David enjoys Cougars games because “they put on a good show,” and is a huge fan of Minor League Baseball in general. He said that he wanted to be a designated eater because it represented “a great chance to eat a lot of good food.”

“My wife claims that when I got this opportunity, I was more excited than when we got married,” said David.

“That’s not a joke,” added Kristen.

I then, apropos of nothing, asked David to name his favorite band of all time. He had to mullet over, but settled on Diamond Rio.

Of the Heart Attack burger, David said that “It’s basically a patty melt with an egg on it, in between a grilled cheese sandwich. It’s good. Really good.”

Okay, let’s move on to Jason, who was a considerably faster eater than was David.

054Jason grew up in the idyllic vacation wonderland that is the Wisconsin Dells, and now lives in Milwaukee. After a stint doing software support for a tech company, he is about to begin a new position with the Better Business Bureau of Wisconsin. He had previously worked in the world of Minor League hockey, which gave him an appreciation for how such entities operate. These days, Jason loves visiting Minor League stadiums as they help facilitate his passion for “travel, sports and zoos.” His favorite band is Ben Folds Five, whom he had recently seen play at a church.

“It was a hike to get here. I had to rent a car,” said Jason of his designated eating motivation. “But I get to see a Minor League team I haven’t seen yet, meet royalty — that’s you — and eat at the same time. I mean, I might as well.”

Jason accomplished his goal of not being “the first person to die of a heart attack while eating the Heart Attack Burger.” He did eat the thing in 90 seconds flat, however, remarking that “I fasted all day for this.”

“It’s actually really good,” he said. “It’s obviously sloppy, but everything is quality.”

Okay, next up: BBQ Pork Chop Sandwich. 10 ounces of butterflied boneless meat on a bun.


David was familiar with this item, which he said might already be his favorite ballpark concession item. (“The barbecue sauce is great.”) In this photo he appears to be kissing the sandwich as opposed to eating it. To each his own.


As for Jason — blink and you miss him eating it. This man was a true speed demon.


“It’s okay,” he said. “I’m not really a big pork guy. It’s all the same.”

Next — more pork! A barbecue pulled pork sandwich, specifically.


Kristin, David’s wife, volunteered to be photographed with this one because “My students will love it.” Okay, Mrs. Lesser’s fifth-grade students, this one’s for you:

064Meanwhile, Jason had pretty much eaten the whole thing by the time I was able to look in his direction.

065Despite his already-professed lackluster pork opinions, Jason was effusive.

“The pork was tender and the barbecue wasn’t overpowering. It never overtook the flavor of the awesome bun.”

Meanwhile, I was provided with some cheese fries. Cheese fries are good. I enjoy them. I wish I had some right now.

060Gluten-free for life!

061Finally, our designated heroes enjoyed Oreo Churros for dessert.

066En garde!

067“Excellent, and who doesn’t like a big tub to dip it in?” said David. “Growing up a White Sox fan, these were one of the staples of the concourse.”

Finally, it should be noted that David and Jason were drinking the new, team-branded “Raging Cougar Ale.”

ragingAnd in a collectible cup, no less.



“Two Brothers makes a lot of good beer,” said David. “It’s hoppy. It’s good. I’m not good at giving descriptions, as you can tell.”

“I know nothing about beer, and I’m from Milwaukee,” said Jason. “It tastes like beer to me.”

So there you have it, folks, a cavalcade of Kane County concessions. Thanks to David and Jason for their enthusiasm, Kristin for her humor and patience, Jon for his culinary expertise, Shawn for the generous accommodations and the Strike Zone waitress (I never got her name) who provided excellent service throughout.

That’ll do it from Kane County, but this ramshackle one-man show of mine will be rolling on for months and months to come. Thanks, to you, for following along.






On the Road: Battling, Blasting and Bouncing in Kane County

To see all of my posts from this May 23, 2015 visit to the Kane County Cougars (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Midwest, click HERE. To see all of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

When Part One of this Kane County content compendium concluded, the game had just begun and I was preparing to engage in something that I had never before engaged in.

Battle Balls.

Battle Balls 2

That’s me on the left and my opponent, Logan, on the right.


I would like to dedicate my victory to the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers dugout, whose denizens offered words of support throughout my battle with Logan.

Next up on the evening’s ever-evolving aganeda was a visit to the new “Strike Zone” seating area. This is where I would meet the evening’s designated eaters.


We’ll meet those designated eaters soon enough (in the next post, specifically). As the food was being consumed, we had the pleasure of witnessing a classic Zooperstars! routine. The Zooperstars! follow me around. They were in Jacksonville (the last stop of my last trip), and now here they were in Kane County (the first stop of my next trip).

Once the designated eating was complete, and all underwear-wearing men had skedaddled off of the field, I introduced myself to usher “Wild Bill” Bowers.


Wild Bill — wow, what an interesting guy to talk to. He’s 91-years-old and has a great life perspective. I wrote an article about him for MiLB.com, which can be found HERE.

Upon concluding my conversation with Bill, Cougars director of public relations Shawn Touney and I commenced to wandering. My first groundbreaking and subversive ballpark joke of the road trip soon followed.

A beautiful day was fast evolving into a beautiful evening.


Shawn and I then worked our way behind the outfield fence, so that I could visit an old acquaintance.

073That’s Jack “Mr. Kaboom” Phelan, who I wrote an article about in the wake of my 2010 Kane County visit.  Man, this feels like a long time ago:


2010 Ben’s Biz Blog file photo


As his nickname would imply, Mr. Kaboom’s job is to set off in-game fireworks (such as when a Cougars player hits a home run). Click HERE to see a quick Instagram video of him in action.


He’s still using the Delcor MP-20 as his preferred pyrotechnic-launching device.

076Mr. Kaboom’s perch provides a nice view of the ballgame.



The @TimberRattlers outfield kinda sorta does the hokey pokey https://t.co/J9qmdpnLRT

— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) May 24, 2015

After bidding adieu to Kaboom, Shawn and I just kept walking. From behind the outfield fence…


…and past a father and daughter having a catch…

083…until, finally, we reached the Cougars Craft Beer Cave.

086There’s plenty to choose from. Beers are $6, which are opened and poured into a plastic cup upon purchase.

084 The Cougars fans, led by emcee Derek, believed that they would win.

They were wrong, as the visiting Wisconsin Timber Rattlers slithered away with a 5-3 victory.

IMG_1192 There was still plenty of entertainment left this evening, however. First up was a performance by the Jesse White Tumblers, a Chicago-based acrobatic troupe founded in 1959 by — you guessed it — Jesse White. (White, for those keeping score at home, currently serves as Illinois secretary of state.)  IMG_1193I did my best to document the tumblers in action. But, literally and figuratively, it was kind of a blur.  IMG_1209That’s Mr. White himself, wearing the red cap and white pants.

In this Vine video, White assists directly with one of the routines. (And credit to the girl being held up, who perseveres after taking a rolling somersault kick to the thigh.)

More tumblin’

I’m not exactly sure how it all happened, but at Shawn’s suggestion Mr. White went ahead and inserted me into the final routine.  TumblersShowtime!

The Tumblers were done, but the post-game entertainment was not. It was just one of those nights.

First, tennis balls were thrown onto the field with reckless abandon. 090Next up: fireworks.

Never have I ever taken a good photo of a fireworks display.

IMG_1212These fireworks had a “popular music” theme. As an avid chronicler of the zeitgeist, I made a point to write down the songs that played during the show:

“Uptown Funk” — Mick Ronson and Bruno Mars

“Shower” — Becky G

“You Make Me Feel” — “Weird Al” Yankovic  Cobra Starship

“Blank Space” — Taylor Swift

“What Makes You Beautiful” — One Direction

“Lips are Movin’ — Megan Trainor

“Ugly Heart” — G.R.L.

“All Alone on the Grass” — Ben’s Biz


If you thought the night was over now — THINK AGAIN.

It was now time for thousands — literally, thousands — of people to run the bases.

IMG_1215At 10:26, the last base-runners rounded third and crossed the plate.

IMG_1219But if you thought the night was over now — THINK AGAIN AGAIN!

The scouts, not yet ready to retire to their tents, were now readying to watch a screening of Big Hero 6 on the videoboard.


But I wasn’t about to take part in that particular Geneva convention. I had had enough. Thank you and good night from Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, where, apparently, the fun never ends.


And when visiting Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, please remember:




On the Road: Tent Pitchers and Catchers in Kane County

To see all of my posts from this May 23, 2015 visit to the Kane County Cougars (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Midwest, click HERE. To see all of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

Long-time readers of this long-time blogging concern might remember that, yes, I have visited the Kane County Cougars before. It was on Labor Day, 2010, a speedily played afternoon game on the last day of the season. There was a melancholy vibe at the ballpark that day; summer was giving way to autumn and thus it was time to say goodbye to Minor League Baseball.

My most recent visit, which kicked off my May 2015 Midwest-based road trip, was the yin to that yang. It was May 23, the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, and the ballpark vibe was lighthearted and celebratory. Spring was giving way to summer and thus it was time to welcome Minor League Baseball with open arms.

Hello, Kane County! Time to take a crooked photo.


The Cougars have played in the same ballpark since their 1991 inception. The last time I visited it was known as “Philip B. Elfstrom Stadium,” but these days it carries the moniker of “Fifth Third Bank Ballpark.” (There are a lot of Fifth Third Bank ballparks around the Minors these days. It’s getting kind of annoying.)

The ballpark is located on the grounds of the Kane County Forest Preserve, in the town of Geneva, Illinois. The parking lot is spacious.


“Camp Local,” says one of the brochures on this Forest Preserve bulletin board.


How’s this for camping local? The Cougars were hosting a scout camp out that evening, with the scouts pitching their tents in a field located, literally, across the pond. (This field, accessible via bridge, was located just beyond the right field berm seating area.)

IMG_1166Most fans in attendance would be leaving the ballpark after the game. For those wondering what to do when leaving the ballpark…

004My ballpark wanderings began here, in Fifth Third Bank Ballpark’s spacious front lobby.


Shawn Touney, the Cougars director of public relations and a very helpful and proactive guy, met me here and began showing me around. This is the new Strike Zone seating area: $69 for a four-top ($89 on fireworks nights).

007 The picture above shows the view from the radio booth. I was in said booth for a pre-game interview with Cougars announcer Joe Brand.

008Brand, in his second year in Kane County, is seeking to become the latest Cougars broadcaster to make it to the Major Leagues. If he accomplishes this goal, he’d join the meritorious likes of Scott Franzke (Phillies), Wayne Randazzo (Mets) and Dave Wills (Rays).

Fifth Third Bank Ballpark (which, henceforth, I will refer to as “FTTB”) covers a lot of acreage. This is the view beyond right field.

010 Beyond the flag and beyond the inflatables, there were the aforementioned tents.

013 As game-time approached, this legion of future tent-sleepers took part in a pre-game parade.

016I needed to head plate-ward myself. Realizing that I had thrown out more than my share of ceremonial first pitches, the Cougars asked me to instead be the “ceremonial first pitch catcher.”

032Cougars reliever Cody Geyer, a frequent first pitch catcher, was psyched to have the day off. Here he shares some of the tricks of the ceremonial first pitch-catching trade.


Geyer warned me that balls bouncing in the dirt were an occupational hazard, but both of the pitches that I caught came in high and true. (Even better, no one complained that some weirdo writer was catching the balls instead of a Cougars player.)

I quickly swapped out one pair of balls for another.

IMG_1169It was time for a softee toss. I was to be a softee tosser.

“Look for energetic kids, and get some height on the throws because it’s fun to watch [the fans] jump for it,” said Logan, a member of the promo team.

I did my best. And, as usual, my best ends up looking weird and awkward.


042The softee ball toss got the fans all Francis Scott Keyed up. It was time for the National Anthem .

044The National Anthem featured “bombs bursting in air” fireworks courtesy of Cougars pyrotechnic expert Jack “Mr. Kaboom” Phelan, who I’ve written about before and will write about again. Certainly, this was not an atmosphere lacking in patriotic flourish.


With the game underway, my promo team cohorts and I retreated to a tunnel alongside the visitor’s dugout.

046I had already caught balls and tossed balls, but even more balls were in my Kane County future.

Battle Balls, to be specific.

049Stay tuned…




About Saturday Night: Kane County Cougars, May 23, 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 my return home, I will provide the deep-dive blog coverage that you have come to know and, perhaps, even love. So let’s get to it, lest it get to us!

May 23, 2015 — Fifth Third Bank Ballpark,  home of the Kane County Cougars (Class A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks)

Opponent: Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, 6:30 p.m. start time

Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, from the outside:


Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, from the inside: 


Culinary Delight: The Heart Attack Burger

053At Random: Scouts don’t camp out on the field. They camp out beyond the field.

IMG_1166Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day:

It’s All Over: Ozzie waits for the last two fans to finish running the bases.



Next Up: 

5/24: Quad Cities River Bandits

5/25: Clinton LumberKings

5/26: Peoria Chiefs

5/27: Cedar Rapids Kernels

5/28: Omaha Storm Chasers