As part of my desire to milk my road trip content to the largest extent possible, I have been periodically posting odds and sods from my recent journey to the Carolinas. Part One featured crabs and a Civil War landmark, while Part Two highlighted regional fast food and North Carolina baseball history.
And that leads us to — what else? — part 3. This chapter starts with Day 5 of the trip, which started in Durham and ended in nearby Burlington. Let’s repeat that, this time in bold:
Day 5 — Durham to Burlington
I attended an eventful game on Saturday evening at palatial Durham Bulls Athletic Park (DBAP), and followed that up the next morning by dropping in on the team’s former home. That would be the similarly-named but drastically different Durham Athletic Park (The DAP), which housed various incarnations of the club from 1926-94.
The ballpark is world-famous as a result of having been featured prominently in the classic film Bull Durham, but fell into disuse after the Bulls re-located to the DBAP. Minor League Baseball, in partnership with the city of Durham, have since renovated the facility and it is now used as a training center for all manner of baseball jobs (more on that HERE).
The DAP also serves as the home field for a variety of youth and recreational leagues (including the excellent Durham Long Ball Program), and on the morning I stopped by I was expecting to tour the facility while one of these games was going on. But, as I later found out, all of the day’s activities had been canceled due to the heat.
Therefore, I was left to wander the perimeter of the stadium by my lonesome. Truly, there wasn’t a soul in sight.
The area surrounding the stadium had a somnambulant vibe as well, fitting for such a soporific Sunday morning.
But at least there were some unexpected patches of city-owned greenery.
Durham to Burlington (home of the Appalachian League Royals) is only about 35 miles, resulting in one of the lightest travel days of the trip. I took my time on this particular journey, first stopping for a late breakfast at reader recommended fast food chain Biscuitville.
The ambiance was a bit lacking, but I was able to obtain a country-fried steak biscuit, grits, and a sweet tea for the eminently reasonable price of $3.94. I really wish I had this in front of me right now:
Upon leaving Biscuitville, I decided to locate some of this “Cheerwine” soda that had been so enthusiastically recommended to me by this blog’s contingent of North Carolina-based readers. I stopped at three convenience stores along the way and while none stocked Cheerwine I did nonetheless obtain some regional snacks.
For instance, I learned that Tom’s Potato Chips offers separate “Vinegar and Salt” and “Salt and Vinegar” flavor combinations.
But the above items were downright healthy compared to this devastating 1-2: Fatback and Fried Pork Skins from Carolina Country Snacks. Even though fatback is hard, unhealthy, and tough to eat I really like the stuff. I ate the whole bag that evening, yet another shameful solitary moment in a lifetime full of them.
And while not specifically a southern treat, nothing washes it all down better than a Mello Yello (in the absence of the still-elusive Cheerwine, of course).
I think the main reason I keep buying this stuff is because I’m in love with the logo, which implies that the double-Ls in both words carry on past the label and into infinity.
I was soon distracted in my Cheerwine search by a series of billboards for a so-called “shopper’s heaven” by the name of J.R’s. The first billboard I saw advertised the store as the “USA’s Largest Cigarette Dealer,” but it only got more interesting from there. “Everything From Brassieres to Chandeliers!” was my personal favorite billboard, with “Awesome!” being a close second. It was duty to make a pit stop.
Shopper’s heaven included cigarettes, dolls, books…
And, of course, Sarah Palin toilet paper.
I was very proud of my personal J.R. haul, which probably sums up me as a person more than I’d care to admit.
Pretty self-explanatory, I think, except for the fact that those “Mr. B’s” peanuts are deep-fried and meant to be eaten shell and all! As a regional snack food aficionado I was very happy to have found them, but it’s an idea that is better in theory than in practice.
The next stop on my detour-laden journey was Cookout, yet another reader-recommended regional fast food joint. The place turned out to be a “Double Drive-Thru,” with no indoor seating.
I ordered a “slaw dog” and — yes! — a Cheerwine float.
My first Cheerwine experience, albeit one compromised by vanilla ice cream. I still don’t know how to describe Cheerwine — it’s like a milder-tasting Cherry Coke with a hint of Dr. Pepper, but with a sparkling effervescence all its own.
Thank You God For America!
Cheerwine appeared in my post on that evening’s Burlington Royals game, a dispatch which also included this image of the team’s men’s room:
However, I have since been informed, by reader Matt Campbell, that the Thome nameplate has gone missing! Observe:
If anyone has any info on what happened to the Thome nameplate, then please get in touch!
But in happier news, it is worth noting that the Burlington women’s bathroom is decorated in similarly appealing fashion. Reader Rebecca Campbell (yes, Matt’s wife) was kind enough to send along these images of a land in which I had not dared to tread:
Could all of this lead to an extensive series of “Bathrooms of the Appalachian League” blog posts? I can only hope! If anyone can assist with this endeavor, then you know where to find me — alone and in front of a computer:
…And I come to give you more, and I never give you less….Let’s go!
If you “Look At Me Now” you’ll find me in NYC, but at this time tomorrow I’ll be flying the friendly skies, airbound toward the arid. Look for “on location” blog posts, articles, and interviews the rest of this week into next, as I spend time in Tucson, Lancaster, High Desert, Inland Empire, and Lake Elsinore (and maybe more, logistics permitting).
But before all that, a good old-fashioned blog bouillabaisse of relevant Minor League biz-ness news (and, for the record, never have I spelled “bouillabaisse” correctly on the first try).
This week’s “Farm’s Almanac” is on the Minor League response to the Alabama tornadoes, and can be read HERE. Mentioned briefly in the story, and something I’d like to emphasize here, is that the Burlington Bees are raising money for the family of grounds crew intern Cody Wales, whose home was leveled by the tornado.
The team has been raising money at the ballpark, and checks to benefit the Cody Wales Family can be sent to the Bees front office at 2712 Mt. Pleasant Street, P.O. Box 824, Burlington, IA 52601.
It’s Tuesday, meaning a new “Promotion Preview” column is up on MiLB.com. It was an admittedly slow week for promos, and I am heartened by the fact that next week’s column gives me more than twice as much notable stuff to choose from. I once again implore you to keep in touch, with info on upcoming promos as well as recaps of those past. I cannot stress this enough! The current soporific state of my inbox leaves much to be desired.
Highlighted in a previous column was the Richmond Flying Squirrels “High Five World Record Attempt,” in which mascot Nutzy attempted to set a new standard for “most high fives by an individual in an hour.” And indeed he did (though yet to be verified by Guinness), slapping palms with 1620 fans.
Featured in last week’s column — and happening TONIGHT — is the Memphis Redbirds’ 30th Anniversary Salute to Charlie Lea’s No-Hitter (Lea now works as a color commentator for the club). The Redbirds are pulling out all the stops with this one, going so far as to tweak an immensely popular viral video.
An event that should have been included, but was instead egregiously overlooked, was the Durham Bulls’ return to iconic Durham Athletic Park yesterday. This video sums up the evening very well:
The Crazy Hot Dog Vendor wasn’t overlooked, but perhaps should have been. As this video points out, the use of the word “vendor” in his job title is blatantly misleading.
But in the end, Minor League Baseball is more about the overall experience than any specific promotion. The Fort Myers Miracle have put together an ad campaign that emphasizes this point very well. My embedding capabilities are lacking in this case, but they can be viewed HERE. And while you’re at it, check out this local newspaper story about the Miracle Bullpen and its trusty Justin Beiber backpack.
And, yes, the story features a photo of Bruce Pugh heading to the bullpen while wearing the backpack — a triumvirate of BPs, and possibly a foursome if he happened to be heading there after batting practice.
I’m now less than 24 hours from saying goodbye to the East Coast. The next time you’ll hear from me I’ll be writing in an agitated late-night state from some hotel room, binging on Mello Yello and wondering what’s it all for.
Greetings from the Huntsville Holiday Inn. It is late at night, so late that I just threw caution to the wind and got a package of Hickory Smoked Beef Sticks and a Mello Yello from the vending machines. The slogan on this beef stick package says “Taste the Magic” but as of yet I have not been able to discern what’s so magical about Lactic Acid Starter Culture and Hydrolyzed Soy Protein.
And did you know that Elvis once stayed in this hotel? I bet you didn’t. It was on May 30, 1975, according to a plaque in the lobby. The Huntsville police stopped by his room and presented him with an honorary badge, which surely must have ranked among the top billion moments of Elvis’ life.
This is what happens at 2:09 in the morning — I start to ramble. But my main purpose in crafting yet another blog post is to post some pictures of my evening at the Huntsville Stars game. The Stars went down in defeat to the Mobile BayBears, with former facial hair cult celebrity Josh Collmenter earning the win.
But I am not concerned with game results, I am concerned with game experience. And while Huntsville’s Joe W. Davis Stadium is one of the less-inspiring facilities in the Southern League, I enjoy visiting here. One of the reasons is the chance to talk to GM Buck Rogers and his wife (and assistant GM) Babs, who are adept at creating memorable promotions and surreal moments (some of you may remember my last visit here, which was highlighted by an on-field sword swallowing).
I wrote an MiLB.com article on Buck, which can be found HERE. Here he is in his cluttered office, which he claims will be cleaned very shortly:
The evening’s quite ridiculous promotion was that anyone flashing the “pitching sign” of five fingers and then four fingers would receive admission for 54 cents. This deal was in conjunction with local TV station Fox 54, and resulted in a nice walk-up crowd:
I am now the proud owner of an XXL “Thirst Aid Thursday” t-shirt, which features a picture of a keg and the words “I’d Tap That”. I’d include a picture, except the shirt is currently residing on the passenger seat of my rented Mercedes-Benz with Texas plates (I’m not going to get tired of writing that).
What I can include is this picture of the stadium rules, written in NASA-inspired outer-space font (in deference to Huntsville’s prominence in the aerospace industry). Although cut off slightly, note that rule #6 prohibits fans from bringing “nukes” into the stadium.
Here’s another NASA-inspired sign, this one advising fans to keep an eye on the field of play. Also, there appears to be a ghostly skull hovering in the lower right hand corner:
I wandered around the spacious stadium throughout the first half of the ballgame, taking pictures. Some of these pictures shall now appear below, for your perusing enjoyment:
And, of course, the obligatory concession menu:
Being the discerning gourmand that I am (see opening paragraph), I opted to visit two specialty stands. At one I procured a lemonade, and at the other boiled peanuts. I am of the firm belief that boiled peanuts should be purchased wherever they are an option.
Finally, I am very pleased to report that for the second time in as many days I was recognized at a ballpark by a baseball civilian. In this instance it was Stars’ season ticket holder Darrell Carmichael, who sent an email after the game that concluded “you keep posting and I’ll keep reading.”
Sounds like a deal to me! Thanks to everyone who reads this blog, as I really do appreciate it. And now, having tasted the magic, I am off to bed.
See you tomorrow, Chattanooga.
The 15th annual Rickwood Classic was played today, with the visiting Tennessee Smokies eking out an 8-7 win over the Birmingham Barons. You can read all about it HERE, and while you’re there be sure to click on my first-ever photo gallery (of which I am very proud).
My “Southern Swing” must soon continue, but before moving on to Huntsville in my rented Mercedes-Benz with Texas plates (this is true), I’d like to leave you with some odds, ends, scraps and sods from my Birmingham experience.
Let’s start with this photo, taken from the roof of Rickwood Field with my trusty spy-cam. Press box sources had informed me that Josh Vitters of the Smokies had left his pants in his hotel room, and this certainly did appear to be the case:
Take it from one who knows, Josh: nothing good can ever come from leaving your pants in a hotel room.
But my favorite photo from my Rickwood excursion is this one, for reasons that I will explain once you are done perusing it:
Fans of juxtaposition should take note of Barons starter Matt Long, quietly stewing in his own juices in the bowels of the dugout while the rest of his teammates loiter carelessly atop roof while waiting for the game to start. But even more hilarious is ol’ #10 there, showing off a beautiful hour-glass figure rarely seen amongst baseball professionals.
I’d also like to say thanks to the various individuals who have provided me with Rickwood information over the past several days. Noted sports scribe Allen Berra was kind enough to share several articles he has written about Rickwood, which informed my writing while whetting my appetite for his upcoming book on the iconic stadium. I’ll certainly be covering the release of this tome on MiLB.com, but get a head start by pre-ordering it on Amazon HERE.
Meanwhile, a reader by the name of Sam Hamm, a former Rickwood bat boy, sent me some inside info on the stadium:
While time was too short for me to obtain photos of ’80s Rickwood, I did make a point to drink two Mello Yellos at the Barons game on Tuesday evening (I also put in Donovan’s Greatest Hits on the car ride home).
I was able to take a photo of the oft-painted over dugout walls, however:
And here, once again, is a photo that shows the discrepancy between the original and “new” outfield walls:
This discrepancy was the subject of another reader email I recently received, this one from a woman by the name of Marcia Bullard:
I just read your story on Rickwood. I was fortunate to visit there a few years ago when my daughter worked for the Barons. On the day we visited there was a high school tournament. We watched a bit of the game and then my daughter showed me around a bit. We were even able to go between the walls and see the back of the scoreboard and the outer wall. I seem to remember that straight away center was over 500 feet! There is a two-track that runs between the walls and to get into the scoreboard (it operates like the one at Wrigley) you have to climb a ladder. We were cautioned to stay on the track because there are snakes living in the grass! If you haven’t already, try to go between the walls. It really is an experience!
And speaking of readers — I must give a shout-out to a man by the name of Larry Lefebvre. Not only did Larry recognize me at Rickwood despite not being a member of the industry (a professional first, to be identified by a baseball civilian!), he also recently sent me an email which warmed my heart to a considerable degree:
“For the past two weeks my daughter has been singing Weird Al’s eBay song non-stop. She went on YouTube and discovered that this is not Weird Al’s only song; he has hundreds of them! After watching his videos for at least 30 minutes I heard her say to herself, ‘This guy is a genius!'”
It goes without saying that if YOU have anecdotes regarding emerging Weird Al fandom in America’s youth, then please contact me immediately so that I may spread the good word.
I suppose I should close with something baseball related, so let me just mention that it was an honor to meet Harmon Killebrew at Rickwood this afternoon. He was very friendly, unassuming, and soft-spoken, immediately making everyone feel at ease around him. I of course don’t know Harmon in any real way, but I walked away from our conversation absolutely convinced that he’s a genuinely nice guy (this was in stark contrast to another member of the 500 Home Run Club I recently met, a condescending and belittling individual whose name either rhymes with or is Reggie Jackson).
So before I shut things down for the night here at the good ol’ Birmingham-Hoover Microtel, here’s a picture of Harmon and the Barons just before the start of today’s Rickwood Classic: