Yesterday’s culinary compendium included copious coverage of ballpark food and regional cuisine, focusing on trips I made to Arizona, California, Ohio and Indiana.
The journey continues today, with a heavy emphasis on what may have been my favorite road trip of 2011: the Carolinas. It all started at Joseph P. Riley ballpark, the home of the Charleston RiverDogs. This is a team that has provided me with plenty of food-based news items through the years (Homewreckers! Pickle Dogs! Pig On A Stick!), and I was excited to finally make my first visit.
The team was ready for me.
Not the best photo, I know, but hopefully indicative of the RiverDogs’ bountiful array of creative food options. Oh, and a Philly Cheesesteak Brat eventually made an appearance.
Here’s a better view of the top-loaded “Kitchen Sink Nachos,” which are served in a pizza box.
But I focused my efforts primarily on the Pickle Dog, making sure to grip the pickle firmly from the rear so that the hot dog would not slip out.
The next day I drove to Myrtle Beach (home of both the Pelicans and the Mermen), and en route I stopped for lunch at “Hog Heaven BBQ.” Apparently, what passes for heaven in the mind of a pig is an afterlife of eternal cannibalization.
Dismayed and confused by this concept, I instead opted for some crab.
I was admonished by various quarters for ordering seafood at a BBQ joint, and I understand those criticisms. But here in NYC a platter such as the above is (relatively) hard to come by, and I have no regrets. None!
I stayed with the seafood theme at that night’s Pelicans game, ordering up some fried clams.
The following afternoon, en route to Kinston, I went to a BBQ joint and actually ordered some BBQ. Bart’s was the name.
At Grainger Stadium that evening, I followed the recommendation of GM Ben Jones and ordered a Philly Cheese Steak, North Carolina style. “Magnifique!” is what I imagine a French fan of Carolina League baseball would say upon biting into the following:
Are there any French fans of Minor League Baseball out there? What a rare subset of fans that must be.
Much less rare is the sight of a Bojangles fried chicken joint in the state of North Carolina. As I was making my way from Kinston to Durham, I patronized the following establishment.
Being a man of perpetual movement, at that night’s Durham Bulls game I ordered a Doritos-brand “Walking Taco.”
That’s nacho typical taco, but it provided all the sustenance I needed until the following morning’s stop at Biscuitville.
Less than two hours later, I patronized another regional fast food chain: Cookout. I’ve since heard from many Cookout aficionados, all of whom insisted that milkshakes should be purchased. Duly noted, but this time around I ended up with a Cheerwine float.
One of the highlights of the following day’s travels was lunch at Zack’s Hot Dogs, a Burlington, N.C. institution.
Since I’m always a proponent of a balanced and healthy diet, the hot dog lunch was followed by a bologna burger at that evening’s Danville Braves game.
The last stop on the Carolina excursion was Winston-Salem. A pre-game meal was obtained a Bibb’s BBQ, located a proverbial hop, skip, and jump away from BB&T Ballpark (domicile of the Dash). And what a meal it was:
That’s about all she wrote from the Carolinas; but fortunately I was able to squeeze one more trip into the 2011 campaign: Maryland, home of the crab pretzel!
More specifically, the home of the cheese and crustacean-laden snack seen above was Aberdeen’s Ripken Stadium. But perhaps an even more anomalous ballpark treat is that which can be found at Hagerstown’s Municipal Stadium: pickled beet eggs!
The Hagerstown Suns experienced some drama this past season, when a light pole fell onto the field during a storm. This is where the light pole used to stand…or is it? Maybe this mark was made by a huge pickled egg!
Or maybe a huge Krumpe’s donut used to lie on that spot! After the game I went to nearby Krumpe’s Do-Nuts (open 8 p.m. to 2 a.m.) and picked up a few.
My trip, as well as my season of traveling, ended the next day in Delmarva. Needless to say, I did not leave Arthur W. Perdue Stadium on an empty stomach.
That was dinner, consisting of a “Chessie Dog” (half-pound frank with cheese, onions, peppers), Crab Dip (with three bread dipping sticks), and a Scrapple sandwich. But there’s always room for dessert, especially when it’s as appealing as the concoction known as “Sherman’s Gelati.”
And that, as they say, was that. I hope you enjoyed, or at least tolerated, this trip down recent memory lane. It provided me yet another opportunity to revive a season which is in actuality dead as the proverbial doornail, and for that I am grateful.
Yesterday’s post detailed the exceedingly modest recreational and culinary diversions I was able to fit into the first three days of my recent road trip through the Carolinas. Well, there’s more where that came from!
Today, this epic saga of roadside triviality continues with…
Day Four — En Route to Durham
I generally try to avoid fast food, but sometimes exceptions must be made. Throughout the previous two days I had seen several Bojangles chicken and biscuit restaurants, and each time I was tempted to stop.
One, because fried chicken joints are by far by favorite fast food subgenre (Popeye’s remains king, in my mind). And, two, because Kinston Indians owner Cam McRae owns and operates over 50 Bojangles franchises.
So when I came across a Bojangles upon leaving Kinston, I felt that it was my destiny to get lunch there.
Unfortunately, I neglected to remember the blog comment left by Matt “Possum187” Campbell, recommending the chicken supremes with honey mustard dipping sauce. Instead, I went with a standard two-piece meal, with a side of pinto beans, biscuit, and sweet tea (sweet tea is something I really miss, I wish it was more widely available in the northeast).
Those mustard packets were the result of me trying and failing to re-collect Possum’s comment (to everyone — I take your comments/emails/tweets very seriously, and always do my best to follow-up. Keep ’em coming). As for the fried chicken, I’d rank it well above soggy and low-quality KFC, but slightly below the uber-crisp and well-spiced offerings at Popeyes.
(Again, Popeyes is my favorite fast food chain, the only one I seek out here in NYC. I do regret, however, that they have severed their connection to Popeye the sailor man. Fleischer Brothers-era Popeye is, in my opinion, the greatest cartoon of all time.)
From Bojangles it was off to nearby Wilson, NC — home of the collegiate Coastal Plains League Wilson Tobs. There wasn’t a game going on — I just wanted to check out 73-year-old Fleming Stadium and its attached “North Carolina Baseball Museum.”
The surroundings were sleepy and residential, everything seen through a filmy haze of humidity.
The ballpark itself is old-fashioned and no-frills, as one would expect from a facility built as a WPA project in 1938.
Located down the third base line is the aforementioned baseball museum.
Inside, there are two rooms jammed floor-to-ceiling with North Carolina baseball artifacts. The first room is largely taken up with mementos and memorabilia relating to Major League players who have hailed from the state, with seven standalone displays related to North Carolinians now enshrined in Cooperstown.
The back room has uniforms, historical displays, and a wide assortment of miscellaneous Minor League memorabilia.
I was truly amazed to come across this — a team photo of the 1960 Tobs, managed by none other than current Marlins skipper Jack McKeon. Talk about a baseball life! It seems almost inconceivable, but McKeon’s managerial career began in the Eisenhower administration.
More on the North Carolina Baseball Museum can be found in this MiLB.com piece. I would certainly recommend visiting, and, if possible, follow up with a trip to nearby Dick’s Hot Dogs. I wasn’t able to make it (Durham awaited), but museum volunteer Eddie Boykin told me that the place is stocked with memorabilia and often populated by chatty old-timers always ready to tell their favorite baseball yarns.
It sure looks like a great spot.
I lifted the above photo from brandonsneed.com. Click HERE to read his piece on Dick’s.
There’s still more to come, of course, hot dog-related and otherwise. As always, critiques, comments, concerns, and commendations are appreciated.
When I’m on the road visiting Minor League ballparks, time is short and the days are long. I do my best to document as much as I can, but inevitably much of the non-baseball related content gets lost in the shuffle.
But my pledge, as always, is to get to it eventually. After all, one of the joys of going on Minor League road trips is that they provide a reason to explore towns large and small that one otherwise not think to visit. In this regard, Minor League Baseball serves as a portal to a near infinite array of distinctly American experiences. I just wish I could experience more of them!
With all this in mind, here are some leftover observations and images from my recent trip through the Carolinas.
Day One — Charleston
As mentioned in my post on the RiverDogs, I was fortunate enough to fire my first shot of the road trip at Fort Sumter.
I was only able to visit for about 20 minutes, but obviously this a must-see for American history buffs. The first shots of the Civil War were fired on this waterfront locale, by Confederate troops seeking to drive the U.S. army out of the fort.
That was 150 years ago. Here’s what the fort looks like today.
That was all I was able to do when it came to extraneous Charleston excursions. That I night I attended the game, getting stuffed with hot dogs before dressing up as one, and the next day it was off to Myrtle Beach.
For those who have actually explored Charleston — what places would you recommend visiting, and why? Feel free to send pictures, if applicable.
Day Two — En Route to Myrtle Beach
Always in a rush, I am, on these trips, but, regardless, I greatly enjoyed the comparatively leisurely paced drive to Myrtle Beach. As opposed to an efficient but homogeneous interstate route, the trip is made onl Route 17 aka “The Coastal Highway.” The road is awash with basket vendors and BBQ joints, and I stopped for lunch here.
Welcome to Hog Heaven BBQ, possessing an exterior brandished with this unforgettable image.
The restaurant’s motto is “Where it’s not just BBQ”, and I took that to heart. While the $6.95 lunch buffet was reasonably priced and well-stocked, I couldn’t resist the chance for some fresh crab. The meat contained therein tasted heavenly, leading to a level of contentment comparable to that felt by a heavy-lidded pig cannibalizing itself in the afterlife.
But as for Myrtle Beach proper, what I’ve written about the experience is all I’ve got. What’d I miss?
Onward, to North Carolina!
Day Three — En Route to Kinston
Traveling from Myrtle Beach to Kinston meant another strong dose of Route 17. On this leg of the trip, the lunch stop of choice was Bart’s BBQ.
A BBQ pork plate (vinegar based sauce), hush puppies, cole slaw, crinkle cut fries, and a pitcher of tea for under $10. A truly excellent bargain.
While this is all I have from Day 3, things picked up considerably over the following four days. Still to come: two classic stadiums, a baseball museum, fast food joints, a massive low-brow shopping emporium, and various incarnations of Cheerwine soda.
I’ll get to it eventually,
When it came time to for me to plan my road trip schedule this season, the team at the top of my “must-visit” list was the Kinston Indians.
And for good reason — the longtime Carolina League entity is re-locating to Zebulon, NC next season, and in 2012 Kinston may very well be left without a professional team for the first time since 1977. I went into the situation in more detail in Monday’s MiLB.com piece as well as a “Minoring in Business,” feature this past offseason. I also implore you to check out last season’s “Farm’s Almanac” feature on beloved Kinston host mother Evelyn “Mama” Kornegay.
Grainger Stadium, built in 1949, is in the midst of a somewhat dilapidated residential neighborhood.
The street behind the ballpark:
Upon entering the stadium and proceeding to field level, I was greeted by a most unwelcoming sight: a tarp on the field.
It’s no surprise that Bojangles is featured on one of the outfield billboards — team owner Cam McRae owns 50 of these chicken and biscuit restaurants and is president of the Bojangles Franchisee Association. He’s Mr. Bojangles, if you will.
But I didn’t have the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on the brain. Instead, it was CCR: Who Will Stop the Rain?
Well, I’m not sure who did (God is my best guess), but the threat of continued meteorological inclemency subsided and it became apparent that the game would be played on time. Thank goodness for that, as my road trip schedule doesn’t allow for make-up dates.
Baseball was imminent!
While waiting for the game to start, I conducted a few player interviews with the Flipcam. Two things about those: T.J. House is a super nice guy, very genuine, and I’ll be rooting for him from here on out. I also interviewed knuckleballer (and, again, nice guy) Steven Wright, but lost the footage in a tragic post-production mishap. I hope to re-interview him again soon, because knuckleballers always make for great stories (or at least lazy sportswriters would have you believe).
A good portion of the crowd arrived early, in order to get their hands on an Alex White bobblehead (in honor of one of last season’s fastest-rising prospects).
With coveted bobbleheads stowed safely under the seats, it became time to stand at attention and honor America. You know the drill.
Once the game began, I commenced to wandering. Some shots from around the stadium.
The K-Tribe mascot is a canine by the name of Scout. Fans were informed via an introductory scoreboard videoboard that “his mother was a stray, his father in and out of the pound.” Nonetheless, he went on to “break the Carolina League canine barrier.”
Scout’s online bio states that he likes the music of Snoop Dogg, Three Dog Night, and “one song by the Baja Men.” A little known fact is that this song is not “Who Let the Dogs Out?” Instead, it’s “Exuma’s Reincarnation”, the leadoff track on the underrated 1998 LP “Doong Spank.”
Out on the concourse, a group of kids were playing their own game of baseball.
Said game was occasionally interrupted by the need to ask random parking lot passersby to retrieve a wayward ball.
Out on the concourse I met Carl Long, a member of the 1952-53 Birmingham Black Barons as well as the 1956 Kinston Eagles (making him the first black player in Kinston’s professional baseball history). More on Long can be found in my MiLB.com piece.
Despite the tarp’s unwanted presence earlier in the evening, it turned out to be a beautiful night for a baseball game.
For dinner, I had the Philly Cheesesteak. In normal circumstances I wouldn’t order a cheesesteak south of Blue Rocks territory, but Kinston GM Ben Jones insisted that his team’s version of this signature item was comparable to those served in the Northeast.
My verdict is that it was very good overall and worth ordering, but presence of mushrooms and lack of Cheese Whiz and Amoroso roll made it not quite up to par with Philly’s finest.
Dessert was courtesy of the local Maola ice cream company. I ordered the “trash can” flavor, because it is my tendency to do such things. It was a bit too sweet for my tastes, but fortunately did not taste like an actual trash can.
The cherry on top of all of this was a home team victory, with the K-Tribe eking out a roller coaster 11-10 win. The players stopped to sign autographs on the way back to the clubhouse (located down the third base line)…
and that was pretty much all she wrote. A few minutes later, I was headed out into the North Carolina night.
But when it comes to professional baseball in Kinston, here’s hoping that it’s not all she wrote. Grainger Stadium is a wonderful place to see a game.
But the Tourists’ renderings of hobo sport-playing, rib-eating celestial bodies weren’t the only new marks to emerge from the Minors yesterday. Or even from North Carolina.
The Kinston Indians, who are celebrating a quarter century as a Cleveland affiliate, unveiled new logos of their own:
The logo seen above replaces this:
While much remains similar, the big difference here is that Kinston is no longer using a Chief Wahoo-style caricature as part of its identity. It had been the last team to do so in the Minors (the Spokane Indians developed their latest mark after consulting with the local Spokane tribe, while the Indianapolis Indians switched to an abstract, somewhat psychedelic design in 1995).
But despite this significant change, the K-Tribe’s new look is aesthetically similar to the old one. This is duly noted in the press release:
“The new, fresh look updates the classic K-Tribe style that our fans love,” said Assistant General Manager Janell Bullock. “We blended together current favorites and updated some great designs we already had. New look, same tradition!”
A Feather In Your Cap (home hat):
The away caps feature a red “K”:
On the Road:
The logos are the work of — you guessed it — Studio Simon. I can’t remember the last new Minor League logo that wasn’t designed by either Studio Simon or Plan B Branding. Those two have the game on lockdown.
The Kinston Indians‘ season-opening series against the Winston-Salem Warthogs were rained out, and neither team has played a game yet this season. This miserable situation has prompted Kinston GM Shari Massengill to make a highly unorthodox (and possibly illegal) guarantee.
If tonight’s game against the Frederick Keys is rained out, then one lucky ticketholder will win $5000 of broadcaster Chris Hemeyer’s salary.
“His [Hemeyer’s] professionalism, experience, talent, play-by-play skill and boyish good lucks make him an invaluable part of this organization,” said Massengill. “That being said, if we can’t get games in and revenue streams dry up, he will be the first member of the front office to be laid off. I mean, why do we need a broadcaster if we don’t have any games?”
Hemeyer is going along with Massengill’s plan, albeit reluctantly.
“I’m sure other bosses have asked their employees to do similar things,” said Hemeyer during yesterday morning’s hastily scheduled press conference. “But I’m sure if my great friends gathered here from the local media found out through their vast resources and unmonitored internet access that this was illegal, they would let me know immediately.”
According to weather.com, there is a 10% chance of precipitation in Kinston tonight. For Hemeyer’s sake, let’s hope that the game is played.
Also Tonight: Dime-A-Degree Night (Altoona Curve), The Writers Strike Back (Charleston RiverDogs), Shawon Dunston Jersey Night (Iowa Cubs)
Hey, What’d I Miss? (Yesterday’s Promos): Slinky Giveaway (Greensboro Grasshoppers), Mitten Giveaway (Iowa Cubs), Little Legend of 2008 (Lexington Legends), Family Guy Night (Wilmington Blue Rocks), Fingerless Gloves Giveaway (Wisconsin Timber Rattlers)
And Finally — Parker Update: On Friday, I wrote about Fresno Grizzlies‘ mascot Parker, who had threatened to boycott Opening Day if the Grizzlies did not sell out Friday’s Home Opener. Parker is serious about the threat, and has since left the team due to “reconcilable differences.” He is now spending his time on the roof of the nearby Security Bank Building, which gives him a birds-eye view of the Grizzlies Chukchansi Park. Presumably, he will come down from his perch if the Grizzlies do indeed “Pack the Park” on Friday night. Stay tuned…