What Minor League team offers the best ballpark views?
In my now-established role as wandering MiLB ballpark minstrel, I’ve visited 24 of the top 30 ballparks in the current voting. Though I may not have sat in the exact seats or section highlighted in the Best Seat in the House contest, I can speak to the spectacular nature to the ballpark views found in these stadiums. What follows is my personal Top 10, presented alphabetically by stadium name (it’s already hard enough to choose 10, ranking them in a specific order would be too much for my fragile psyche to bear).
As an added bonus, each team name is linked to my corresponding blog post describing my visit:
AutoZone Park (Memphis Redbirds) — A downtown stadium should always have downtown views.
BB&T Ballpark (Charlotte Knights) — The city skyline threatens to swallow the ballpark whole.
Dell Diamond (Round Rock Express) — Okay, so this is a view of those enjoying the views. But it doesn’t get much better than watching a game from an outfield concourse rocking chair.
Modern Woodmen Park (Quad Cities River Bandits) — Centennial Bridge backdrop (the bridge crosses the Mississippi River, connecting Davenport, Iowa, and Rock Island, Illinois):
Pensacola Bayfront Stadium (Pensacola Blue Wahoos) — The Pensacola Bay lies beyond right field, and beyond the bay lies the Gulf of Mexico.
PNC Field (Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders) — The outfield concourse incorporates the stadium’s natural surroundings very nicely.
Richmond County Bank Ballpark (Staten Island Yankees) — This is not the best representation, as this photo is from a foggy night. But the lower Manhattan skyline is visible from across the water. It is, as always, an awe-inspiring sight.
Southwest University Park (El Paso Chihuahuas) — The Franklin Mountains loom beyond left-center field. (Meanwhile, behind the ballpark, Juarez, Mexico, is clearly visible.)
Victory Field (Indianapolis Indians) — Technically, no one is allowed to sit up here. But the view from the roof is awesome.
Whataburger Field (Corpus Christi Hooks) — Harbor Bridge beckons.
Once again, you can vote in the Best Seat in the House contest HERE. Do you agree with my Top 10 picks? Who are you voting for, and why? Per usual, I’m amenable to having a conversation about this and all Minor League-related matters. Feel free to get in touch anytime.
Last month I featured a guest post on this blog by Gillian Richard, who wrote about her love for the soon-to-be-departing Huntsville Stars. In the wake of that post I took to Twitter, asking Minor League Baseball fans to write about why they love their hometown team. Wes Milligan was the first to respond to this challenge; what follows is his ode to the Memphis Redbirds. If you would like to write a “Why I Love…” guest post about YOUR favorite team, then shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org
You don’t get a second chance to throw out a first pitch at a Memphis Redbirds game.
There I was, just a few feet from the mound, a bundle of nerves as I prepared for my moment on the hill. To make matters worse, a few days earlier Carly Rae Jepsen had thrown out what could be the worst first pitch in Major League Baseball history, and her horrific bounce was playing in a loop in my head. I was so terrified that I hadn’t even told most of my FedEx co-workers about my impending moment in the spotlight. If I bounced it, I would never hear the end of it. Ever.
Right before I stepped on the mound, I asked a staff member which player would be catching the baseball. She said, “Oh, it’s Michael Wacha.” I went pale. True, Wacha wasn’t yet the NLCS MVP, but every die-hard St. Louis Cardinals fan knew the young prospect. He wasn’t going to be in Memphis long, and I didn’t want his last memory of AutoZone Park to be a slider in the dirt, 30 feet from home plate. And did I mention America’s Homecoming Queen was throwing another first pitch after me? So I have a future MLB star, a beauty queen and thousands of fans watching me. Nah, no pressure. No pressure at all.
When I moved to the Memphis area more than two years ago, I was more excited about seeing the Redbirds play than starting my new job at FedEx. As a lifelong Cardinals fan and former resident of St. Louis, being able to watch the young baseball talent move up the farm system firsthand was a great tourism attraction and on my baseball bucket list. It quickly became so much more than that.
My best memories of Memphis now involve the Redbirds: snagging a foul ball, tasting Rendezvous barbecue nachos for the first time, and taking in a weekday matinee game on an extended lunch break. The willingness of the team to support the Alzheimer’s Association, my charity of choice, has meant a lot to me. And who doesn’t like fireworks night?
There was also the time I beat my buddies during the fifth inning tricycle race. I never did tell them one of the Memphis RedHots gave me the inside track on how to win, but does that really matter? The Memphis Redbirds give us all a chance to wind down after a long day at work, catch up with friends – and make new ones – while watching quality baseball in the city we call home.
Minor League Baseball teams, like the Memphis Redbirds, are community treasures. The team gives us affordable access to the game we love so much, supports the community and local charities, and introduces children to America’s pastime in a close and intimate environment. For example, the Memphis Redbirds have supported the RBI Program (Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities) for a very long time, raising thousands of dollars to grow the next generation of players and fans. That’s how I got to throw out a first pitch. Fans who donate to the program at a certain level can fulfill that baseball dream. Just don’t bounce it.
Well, if Bob Uecker was there that night, he would have called my pitch “just a biiiiit outside.” But I didn’t bounce it. Wacha autographed the baseball, I rejoined my friends in the stands and we all enjoyed yet another Memphis Redbirds game at AutoZone Park, my favorite place to watch baseball.
To the Memphis Redbirds: thank you for the memories and for the great times that I know are just around the corner. I’ll see you Opening Day — now pass those nachos!
Thanks to Wes for taking the time to write this and, again: if YOU would like to submit a post for this series, then email the address below. In the meantime, here’s my “On the Road” Memphis Redbirds blog post from 2012.
Well, it had to happen eventually: As of that last Hillsboro post, I am officially done with “On the Road” content. This upsets me, as visiting ballparks take the guesswork out of doing this blog. All season long I never have to think about what I’m going to write, I simply write about where I’ve been.
But no more! I will eventually do a series of “Return to the Road” posts, highlighting that which was seen and experienced outside the confines of the Minor League ballparks in question, but today marks the first of what will surely be many catch as catch can bouillabaisse blog posts. These “everything but the kitchen sink”-style blog posts come about because all season long people send me worthy material, and I inevitably reply that I will “get it on the blog as soon as I get the chance.” That chance is finally getting got, right here and right now. So let’s dive into a stew of Minor League Baseball randomness.
Starting with this:
Yep, it’s the David Freese Kiss Cam, which got a lot of play when I featured it on Twitter a few months back. Freese played for the Redbirds in 2008 whilst in the final phases of his Minor League trajectory, and then returned to the club on a rehab assignment early this season. During his brief Memphis return he posed for the above photos, resulting in what had to be the most unique kiss cam in Minor League Baseball (it helps that the Redbirds possess the largest videoboard in the known universe).
I am always willing to lend my name to such endeavors, so if anyone wants to do a “Ben’s Biz Kiss Cam” in 2014 then I’m happy to oblige. Here’s the raw material.
While in Memphis, Freese also threw water balloons filled with paint at a canvas.
While I don’t have a picture of the resultant artistic masterpiece, let it be known that it was sold by the Redbirds for $810. This money went toward philanthropic endeavors, of course.
UPDATE! Now I DO have a picture of the resultant artistic masterpiece. Cue the J. Geils Band!
File the above two initiatives under “creative things to do when a rehabbing Major Leaguer is in town.” Our next topic is “creative ways to utilize the batter’s eye portion of a Minor League stadium.” This May, the Fort Wayne TinCaps opened “The 400 Club” group seating area and, yes, it is located in dead center field.
This area accommodates groups of between 20 and 150 people, at $40 per person (this includes a buffet food service with draft beer and wine). Here’s the view from the inside, courtesy of TinCaps’ broadcaster Mike Couzens’ exemplary “It’s All Relative” blog.
I was curious as to how the TinCaps were able to insure that the 400 Club would not interfere with the batter’s view, which led team intern/designated eater extraordinaire Keirsh Cochran to secure the following response from team president Mike Nutter:
We worked with Hok/Populus as our national architect, Design Collaborative as our local architect as well as the folks at MILB Baseball Operations and Gould-Evans to ensure the project was done correctly. We looked at SEVERAL glass samples including the same specs that are used in both New York major league ballparks. We ended up being very cautions with this and paid a lot of money to get anti-glare and tinted glass. We also angled the glass downward to ensure no glares would have a negative effect on the hitters in the batters box.
The batter’s eye is actually much bigger now than it was before and a much better hitters background.
Folks are visible through the glass, but the tinting and anti-glare really mutes it and there are no issues with distractions.
I wish that when it came to this job there were no issues with distractions, but nonetheless I will persevere. If you have any comments, complaints or suggestions regarding the kind of content that you’d like to see on this blog throughout the offseason then please, by all means, get in touch.
There are few, if any, things that I like more in this world than the sound repetition device that is alliteration. Examples of it abound here on (ahem) Ben’s Biz Blog, perhaps my favorite being a post titled “Charlie Crist Cancellation Causes Costumed Crustacean Candidacy.” I should have retired immediately after writing that.
But, no, here I remain. My personal predilection for alliteration has led me to peruse 2013 promo schedules for examples of it in bobblehead form, because what better way could an able-bodied 34-year-old man possibly make use of his time?
1. Bowie Baysox — Jim Johnson, July 22
The Bowie Baysox have the honor of leading this post, for they are the only alliteratively-named team giving away an alliterative bobblehead. Their honoree is Bowie-turned-Baltimore pitcher Jim Johnson, who was born in June in the town of Johnson City.
And would you believe in that in addition to the Jim Johnson bobblehead, July 22nd is also “Mutt Monday” at the ballpark? And that the Baysox are playing the Akron Aeros? It’s almost too much too take.
The Gwinnett Braves also get a very special mention in this post, as they are the only team with TWO alliterative bobbleheads on the promo calendar.
2. Gwinnett Braves — Brandon Beachy (April 6) and Freddie Freeman (May 18)
Yes, a Brandon Beachy Braves Bobblehead! It boggles the brain!
And now the rest!
3. Richmond Flying Squirrels — Brandons Bobblehead (Belt and Crawford), April 5
This bobblehead is doubly alliterative in that not only is it a Brandon Bobblehead, but one of the Brandons is Brandon Belt. A Brandon Beachy Braves Bobblehead followed by Brandon Belt, right here on Ben’s Biz Blog. My life’s work is nearly complete.
4. Rome Braves — Henry the Hot Dog, April 20
Will Henry come covered in condiments?
5. Frederick Keys — Manny Machado, May 11
This May a multitude of Manny fans, many men and maybe many more women, will flock to Frederick in order celebrate Monsieur Machado’s manifold splendor.
6. Reno Aces — Brett Butler, May 25
A bounteous booty of Brett Butler bobbleheads bestowed upon Reno’s resplendent residents as a means of creative championship commemoration.
7. Sacramento RiverCats — Chris Carter, June 23
Chris Carter, a Californian, consecrated by the ‘Cats. Cool.
8. Harrisburg Senators — Stephen Strasburg, July 15
It’s Military Monday and the bobblehead is mini. Stephen Strasburg’s scintillating skill set stays sky-high.
9. Clinton LumberKings — Mitch Moreland, August 3
Mitch Moreland matriculated at Mississippi.
10. Memphis Rebirds — BBQ Bobblehead, August 16
Memphis is mum regarding the scintillating specifics of this “BBQ Bobblehead,” but what we do know is that it is taking place during a “Fred’s Family Friday” promotion.
My work here is done.
We haven’t yet hit the ides of March, but nonetheless all eyes in March are firmly gazing into the Opening Day distance. This post highlights just a few of the many, many season-starting initiatives that teams have up their sleeves.
Johnny, Cash: 2013 marks the Fort Wayne TinCaps’ fifth season, and to celebrate they are giving away $5000.
In a press release, the TinCaps explained how this is all going to go down.
As fans enter the ballpark on Thursday, April 11th, each will receive a scratch-off card as part of the qualification process. Certain cards will be designated as instant winners, with those fans receiving a TinCaps game-worn red jersey, which the team will be wearing that night. The TinCaps red jerseys are a part of history, as each player ever to play for the team since 2009 has worn these jerseys.
Once these select fans are determined, the final $5,000 winner will be selected from among the jersey winners. The final selection process will be announced at the game on Opening Night.
But, as with any promotional endeavor worth its salt: THAT IS NOT ALL. The TinCaps are currently staging a scavenger hunt, the weekly winners of which will pre-qualify for the $5,000 prize. Read all about that HERE.
And then there are the Indianapolis Indians, who are offering fans the chance to vote on the Opening Day field design. The choices are Cell Cut, Checkered Cut, Diamond Cut, and the Phillies Cut. They are all very attractive choices, so you can’t really go wrong, but I suppose I’d go with the Cell.
But Opening Day pomp and circumstance goes beyond the parameters of the playing field, of course. The Memphis Redbirds are currently running a contest on Facebook, with the grand prize being a swank VIP limo ride to the ballpark.
Meanwhile, in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, just about everything will new in 2013. Read all about it in my MiLB.com piece! But one aspect of the SWB re-invention I didn’t get around to in the piece is the mascot situation. Two new characters are all set to debut and, of course, they need a name.
For the record, the character on the left is a “nine-foot tall superhero” while on the right is a “furry porcupine.” I’d call the former “108-Inches Man” and the latter “Quill Rogers.”
If I make this sentence long enough, this one that you’re reading now, then I’ll have reached my self-imposed 400 word minimum.
This may be the first Ben’s Biz Blog post to appear in autumn, but the content remains rooted in the (seemingly) endless summer of 2012. Today we return, one last time, to the city of Memphis. I attended a game at AutoZone Park on June 12, and the following morning had a bit more time to explore before heading to the next destination of Jackson, TN.
One of the first sights I came across after departing the Sleep Inn in which I had been sequestered was this unorthodox art “battle.” Ghostly cowboy vs. tank-driving alien: who ya got?
From there, a bit of wandering soon brought me to this Memphis institution.
The Orpheum, 84-years young and (allegedly) haunted, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. Also occurring in 1977 was the death of Mr. Elvis Presley — a nearby statue commemorates how he appeared in his prime, far removed from Me Decade degeneration.
I didn’t have the time to make it to Graceland this time around, but that remains a goal. (In the meantime I’ll just be hanging out here in New York City, looking for the human trampoline.) Walking along Main Street, I found a more recent example of a Memphis-based musical striver.
It’s easy to make fun of a dude named “Lil Wyte,” but he’s found a way to make a living as a rapper for 10+ years (largely via his own label) and that is something that takes a tremendous amount of hard work and dedication. I’m not all that into his style of hip-hop, but he has my respect. (In a perfect world, my Minor League Baseball road trips would be coupled with profiles of local rappers and doom metal bands, as a way of more fully being able to capture the personality of the city in question. But, for now, you’re left with out-of-focus pictures of telephone pole advertisements).
These wanderings through the relative desolation of Memphis’ Main Street did have a final destination: the Lorraine Motel. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated here in 1968, and the building has since been expanded into the National Civil Rights Museum.
Also part of the museum is this area directly across the street, which includes the perch from which Ray fired the fateful bullet.
I did not have enough time to tour the museum proper, but I did engage in a conversation with one of its biggest detractors.
That shadowy figure is one Jacqueline Smith, a former resident of the Lorraine Hotel who has since dedicated her life to railing against the museum. I went into the conversation with the intent of being receptive to her point of view — Ms. Smith is a life-long Memphis resident with a personal connection to the Lorraine Motel, and there is clearly much to be said about the mixed effects of gentrification as well as the mainstream co-option and subsequent neutering of radical modes of thought. But Ms. Smith has been on her single-minded crusade for so long that there isn’t any nuance whatsoever in her viewpoints (if there ever was). She told me that “black people who visit here are brainwashed” and that a “good white person is like finding a $3 bill,” and put me in a thoroughly no-win situation. If I agreed with any aspect of what she said, she’d berate me for my lazily acquiescence (“You don’t know anything, you don’t read anything, you just shake your head and say ‘yeah.'”). But if I disagreed, I was characterized as simply the latest deluded soul to wander by her quixotic encampment.
It was frustrating, to say the least, and I replayed the conversation in my head for hours afterward. (Being sensitive and overly-analytical is hard work!) My final conclusion was that her dismissive and oft-hateful viewpoints were a more substantial desecration of Dr. King’s memory than any aspect of the museum itself. But what do I know? She’s been camping out at that spot for 23 years. I wandered through during the course of an unfocused early afternoon.
Look, here’s a picture of a restaurant. I took it myself.
Did you know? The Arcade is Memphis’ oldest restaurant, and inside there is an “Elvis Booth” in memory of one of the establishment’s most dedicated customers.
The downtown walk continued to reveal locations both boarded up and still vital…
But, as always, my ultimate destination was a baseball stadium. The Redbirds were playing an early afternoon contest at AutoZone Park, so before heading on my way to Jackson I stopped in for the final few innings. This brief “fan mode” respite, I enjoyed it.
One last glimpse of the largest videoboard in Minor League Baseball.
The RedBirds mounted a ninth-inning rally (three singles and a walk to start the frame), but in the end they couldn’t push across that crucial winning run. Final score Nashville 5, Memphis 4.
And with that, I left Memphis — but not before an attempt to find a meal on Elvis Presley Blvd. I ended up at Jack Pirtle’s, a Memphis institution that served up some quick and tasty fried chicken. (This would turn out to be the final time I enjoyed fried chicken, as upon my return from this trip I began a gluten-free diet.)
Livers and gizzards were on the menu, but I went with a good old-fashioned two piece meal.
You know what was in that cup, just beneath the fries?
Gravy. There was gravy in the cup.
Thus concludes all the odds-and-sods “Return to the Road” material that I have, not just from Memphis but the entire OKARKMOTN road trip. I hope you enjoy this sort of thing, because later in the week it’ll be time to “return to the road” once again. Next up, Pacific Northwest!
There’s a lot going on throughout the season, and therefore it can be tough to keep track of all the narrative threads that are dangling around me at all times (they taunt me, these threads). One thread that has been neglected since those halcyon days of late July is that which chronicled the non-baseball goings-ons of my MiLB.com-sponsored trip to Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee. The previous post in the series ended with this shot — the view from the hotel parking lot after I arrived in the city of Memphis (home of the Redbirds).
“Jefferson Davis was fronting Deep Purple,” I wrote at the time, and I stand by this bon mot.
The Redbirds were in the midst of a ballgame when I arrived, but my plans with the team were for the next night (that evening is chronicled HERE). I therefore decided that my first order of business, as it so often is, would be to procure a meal. I began meandering about in downtown Memphis, and along the way got my first glimpse of AutoZone Park (home of the Redbirds).
My first choice for dinner was the very well-known and loved (and perhaps a wee bit touristy) Memphis institution known as “Charlie Vergo’s Rendezvous.” But upon making my way to the eponymous alleyway which houses this establishment, I made the disconcerting discovery that it was closed on Mondays.
It was getting late, and I was tired, and seemingly everyone I encountered on the largely empty streets expressed the desire to show me a “good time” of some sort. These claims were of dubious validity and possibly nefarious intent, and I was beginning to feel a little besieged. So I took the path of least resistance and headed to the tourist mecca that is Beale Street. By Beale Street standards, the vibe was positively sedate.
I chose to patronize this presumably iconic establishment: the Blues City Cafe.
Where were you on the night that the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup? I was here, in full-on “awkward guy eating alone” mode, indulging in this meal at a rather desultory bar seating area.
Blues City Cafe claimed to have the best ribs in Memphis, but I cannot confirm nor deny as they were the only ribs I had in Memphis. Of more pressing concern to me, as I look at this photo, was the extent to which this meal was or wasn’t gluten-free (I adopted a gluten-free diet immediately upon returning from this trip, after being diagnosed with celiac disease). Eating in restaurants has become fraught with the unknown — what are the ingredients in the ribs? The baked beans? The cole slaw? The fries are gluten free, but what else was in the fryer? Who knows? Who cares? Why, in a blog ostensibly devoted to the business of Minor League Baseball, are you writing in hand-wringing fashion about a meal from nearly three months ago?
Time to blow this joint, but not before a little bit more narcissism. On the way back to the Sleep Inn, I noticed an alleyway which commemorated what happens to be the day on which I was born.
But why? The answer, courtesy of an article in Time magazine, is not one I would have expected:
[November 6th Street] commemorates the day in 1934 when Memphis, urged on by its utility-baiting political boss, the late Edward H. (“Mister”) Crump, voted against private power and for the Tennessee Valley Authority power system (it was the first major city to enter TVA).
In today’s political climate, such a resounding defeat of private enterprise would result in hysterical accusations of an impending government takeover by those secretly in thrall to Bolshevik theories. But maybe that was also the case in 1934? Who really does know? What I do know is that I had the entire next day to spend in Memphis. It began with some frenzied writing from the hotel room, which offered a great view for those seeking voyeuristic white-collar thrills.
The inexorable passage of time meant that another meal was in order, and I’ll write about this one sans-celiac hand-wringing. The destination was Cozy Corner, recommended by loyal road trip recommender Rex Doane. As soon as I pulled into the parking lot, I knew that it was gonna be good.
At this friendly and unassuming spot, one orders at the counter and then retreats to the dining area to await the comestibles that will soon be brought forth.
I ordered a Cozy Corner specialty, which was something one does not have the opportunity to order often: Cornish Game Hen. It was delicious!
After leaving the Cozy Corner, I made a pit stop at another Rex-recommended establishment: Shangri-La Records.
Record stores are my favorite of all establishments, and Shangri-La had an eclectic selection and very appealing sensibilities (with an emphasis on Memphis music, including that which has been released on their eponymous label). I was feeling a bit rushed, in that I had a ballgame to get to, and was therefore not on top of my record store game. But I did purchase the following:
Starting at the top and moving clockwise, that’s James Gang “Rides Again,” Bruce Springsteen “The Rising,” Rufus Thomas “Crown Prince of Dance,” Creedence Clearwater Revival “Mardi Gras,” and Oneida/Liars “Atheists Reconsider” split. I could discuss the motivations behind each purchase, but am already feeling a bit self-conscious re: the insertion of myself into this post.
So, y’know, I’ll just continue talking about myself. Inspired by my hotel bed record arrangement, I did the same with the road snacks I had accumulated. Three observations regarding this picture:
1.Despite being part of a snack food monolith, Doritos has become downright avant-garde in its relentless pursuit of new flavors and ways in which to present them.
2. Pork cracklins are far better than chicken cracklins.
3. When I am on the road and in a region in which cracklins are available, I quickly become addicted to them. As in, literally cannot stop eating them. (They are crazily unhealthy, so I am actually glad that they aren’t available here in the northeast.)
Finally, mercifully, it became time to head to AutoZone Park. This establishment was along the way, but I resisted from shelling out more of my cash toward the sort of food products I was already eating too much of. But, my goodness, it was tough to resist.
Also tough to resist: the urge to stop writing. This narrative thread has been pursued enough for today, but, as always, there’s more where that came from.
It’s time to end the blogging week by, yes, once again returning to the road. The last post in the series ended with a wonderful hamburger in Tulsa, and from there I drove on to Springdale in order to attend that evening’s Northwest Arkansas Naturals game. Perhaps you already read about it?
The next day, the plan was to drive from Springdale, AR to Springfield, MO — the home of the Springfield Cardinals. My lunch destination was the AQ Chicken House, which received a glowing recommendation from regular reader/grizzled Minor League traveler/esteemed DJ Rex Doane. The problem was that it was early on Sunday afternoon when I got there, and the place was overflowing with a post-church lunch crowd. I felt self-conscious waiting alone for a table amidst this rollicking social atmosphere, and scrapped my poultry-related plans.
I wish I had gotten to know thee, AQ Chicken House!
At this point it became time to improvise, and I settled on this unassuming Mexican place about 10 minutes down the road.
And you know what you get when you go to an unassuming Mexican restaurant? Unassuming Mexican food! This is never, ever a bad thing, especially when the salsa comes in a carafe.
I ordered a beloved old standby, which, in my new gluten-free reality, will only become more prominent. Huevos Rancheros!
Huevos rancheros gave me the strength I needed to complete the drive to Springfield, and I only stopped once along the way. I just couldn’t resist:
I found the items contained within this alleged village to be exceedingly tacky, and, coming from me, that’s saying a lot.
Upon arriving in Springfield, I checked into the University Plaza hotel. The following note was laid out on the pillow, and while some might be turned off by the overt religiosity I was impressed by its heartfelt and genuine tone. A real rarity in this day and age!
The business that brought me to Springfield did indeed prosper, as that evening I enjoyed a very well-attended Springfield Cardinals game. (And, again, you may have read about it.) The next day, my travel between the eternities included a pit stop in downtown Springfield. A reader had recommended that I check out the Springfield Brewing Company, and who am I to defy a reader recommendation?
This was a cool operation, as beer was indeed brewed onsite.
As for me personally, I felt a bit agitated. As I’ve mentioned several times before, this trip came after my celiac disease diagnosis but before I decided to strictly follow the gluten-free diet that such a disease requires. The menu of heavy beers and upscale bar food didn’t include many gluten-free options at all, and I felt bummed out that in the near future (as in, now) my options at such a place would be severely limited.
But, whatever. I was cheating. Therefore, I ordered an excellent dark beer (forget the name) and the “Brewben” sandwich ($7.95, a great deal!)
The Springfield Brewing Company’s website mentions that their establishment is “an anchor to the re-birth of downtown Springfield” and, indeed, this is a downtown area that is decidedly in flux. While there are many empty and dilapidated storefronts, there are also many creative, risk-taking entrepreneurs involved in a bona fide downtown renaissance.
I was just passing through, as I am wont to do, so I don’t know anything about the history of Springfield or the long-term goals of this ongoing revitalization project (if you do, feel free to leave a comment or send me an email). But I do know I enjoyed wandering around a bit, while sporadically documenting what I saw.
I wish I had done more investigating into this “Robert E. Smith” building (no, it was not named after the Cure singer). It turns out that Robert E. Smith is a “nationally known folk and ‘outsider’ artist.”
I heard that this establishment used to sell Philadelphia Hot Dogs:
This is the Springfield Little Theatre, over 100 years old and still staging live productions.
It took all of my will power not to go into this record store, my favorite type of store in the entire history of stores. But, alas, I was on a tight schedule and, therefore, unable to stick it in my ear.
And what a great entrance way!
Fortunately I was pretty well-stocked with new music as it is. I still buy cds (old habits die hard), and on each trip I give three recent purchases three listens each. Obsessive compulsive much? On this trip, the three honorees were:
— Neil Young and Crazy Horse — Americana
— Grinderman — 2 RMX (this song could not be any more awesome, the 2:20 mark is basically what I want all music to sound like always)
— Late Night Tales Vol.2 compilation, curated by Belle and Sebastian
(and, for my own enjoyment when I’m an old man reading this post, the three albums on the April/May Florida trip were Quakers self-titled, Nicki Minaj “Roman Reloaded,” and Unsane “Wreck.” If anyone ever wants to talk about music, you know where to fine me.)
But anyway! The ride from Springfield to Memphis was a long one, and was highlighted by some of the most low-hanging clouds I’d ever seen.
Pork skins and Mello Yello sustained me throughout, as did unexpected tributes to long-ago baseball greats.
And when I arrived in Memphis late that evening, none other than Jefferson Davis was fronting Deep Purple.
And that’s where we’ll leave off for now. (Sorry for using the royal we, which, really, should be reserved for assent-giving French monarchs).
The bad news about this OK-ARK-MO-TN trip, accommodation-wise, was that the team hotels were more expensive than I had been used to. But the good news (and stop me if you’ve heard this one before) was that many of them were walking distance to the stadium. And oh what a lovely perk this is — to step out of the Sleep Inn, strut a few blocks along South Main, take a left on Monroe and then — bam! — Memphis Redbirds baseball!
When I arrived there was, unfortunately, no entry between the legs.
But access was quickly gained nonetheless, and one of the first orders of business was to conduct a couple of player interviews with the trusty Flipcam.
Some of the players were taking cuts in a subterranean indoor location, alongside a mural that celebrates each season in which a Memphis professional baseball entity won a championship (the first flag, from that disease-plagued year of 1893, was earned by a team called the “Fever Germs.” Take note, Tim Hagerty!)
Other players were getting their work in, in the great outdoors. Eugenio Velez stood out in this regard, fielding ground balls on his knees in foul territory along third base. (Here’s hoping Velez makes it back to the Majors soon, so that he may enjoy a run of success comparable to last year’s futility!)
While down on the field, I got my first glimpse of what is, oh, I don’t know: THE BIGGEST VIDEOBOARD IN MINOR LEAGUE BASEBALL.
60′ x 60′!
I’m jumping ahead in the narrative a bit, but this is funny: Prior to the start of the season the Redbirds’ ace video production team concocted the following fake-out graphic for the new videoboard. It expertly re-creates the look of the old board.
On Opening Day, the Redbirds fooled fans and media alike by displaying the above graphic when the gates opened. After enduring an hour of disappointed and/or critical remarks (“What about that big new board you guys said what you were getting?”), they finally switched over to the “real” thing.
But I digress. I hung out in the dugout as batting practice wrapped up…
interviewing third baseman Zack Cox (in his first game back after going on the DL with a concussion) and then highly-touted pitcher Shelby Miller. But first, I had to wait for Miller to get off the phone, as he was speaking with a writer from the esteemed Cardinals blog Redbird Rants.
Miller is struggling quite mightily with Memphis, and I appreciated that he was willing to talk about it in an honest and relatively unguarded manner. He was a good interview (it’s linked to above, if you’re into that sort of thing).
As for whether I’m a good interview — who knows? But after speaking with Miller I went upstairs and chatted with Redbirds broadcaster Steve Selby for his pre-game show. It was a loose conversation, and the main thing I remember is Selby talking about mascot Rockey’s huge calves and me responding that I always pay attention to mascot body part size.
And speaking of large organs, I was happy to see this beauty up in the press box:
(It unfortunately went unplayed on the Tuesday night I was in attendance, but still…)
Downstairs, upstairs, then downstairs again. This time my descent was because I had been tapped to throw a ceremonial first pitch, my second of the season (after Fort Myers). While waiting for my moment to shine, I met the aforementioned Rockey.
And, my God, look at those calves. Steve Selby was right!
I took the mound to wild, rapturous applause, and fired off an 85 mile-per-hour strike.
Or maybe it was indifferent applause and a 45 mile-per-hour lob that nearly went over the catcher’s head? I can’t remember.
The National Anthem was sang by this young woman, whose voice sounded far more mature than her years.
At one point during the anthem, I looked up at the (massive) videoboard and was dismayed to see myself in the shot (standing right behind the singer). I tried to move out of the way, but of course moved even more into the center of the shot. Being on a videoboard is disorienting! If I had to do it over again I would, but there are no second chances in life.
There are, however, seconds on the stadium clock.
Dinnertime, in other words! Out on the concourse, the biggest line was for the Redbirds’ world-famous BBQ Nachos.
Seriously — these things outsell even the hot dogs (or so I’ve been told). It’s chips, cheese, pork, and then sauce and dry rub provided by famous downtown BBQ joint Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous.
This excellent creation was just one of many I was able to sample, for at this point in the evening I received an extensive food tour from Ovations concessions general manager Mike Brulatour.
We started with the BBQ Bacon Hot Dog — topped with a vinegar and mustard-based slaw, Rendezvous BBQ sauce and dry rub and, of course, a nice hunk of bacon:
And while I did not sample the aptly-named Big Dog, it sure lived up to its name:
The cheese and sausage plate is a common Memphis menu item, and the team offers their own version: polish sausage, cheese, peppers, and pickles:
I would have liked it better had there been less sauce and a little bit more separation of the items (the cheese was buried beneath the meat), but this is nonetheless a wonderful array of foodstuffs and something I’d LOVE to see more of at ballparks nationwide. Just sayin’ is all.
The “sleeper” item on the menu (and Brulatour’s favorite) is “Chicken on a Stick.” It’s a kabob of sorts, featuring chicken, potato, pickle and onion. I’d highly recommend it:
One of the sausages on offer was the red-hued Circle B, cut in half and grilled. I had a sample, sans bun, and it was really, really good. The woman working the concession stand was incredulous that I had never heard of Circle B — “It’s everywhere!” she exclaimed.
But that’s par for the course when it comes to regional food. I’m from the Philadelphia area, where a sign like this wouldn’t be necessary:
But Parker’s wasn’t serving, so I settled for a good old-fashioned Icee. Man, it had been a while!
But, listen: do as I say, not as I do. And what I say is, “Eat healthy!”
But in the absence of eating healthy, at least I get plenty of ballpark exercise. Brulatour and I ended up walking a lap around the stadium, and I took pictures along the way.
The visiting and home bullpens are separated by some pretty impressive center field foliage.
Out beyond left-center field, there’s a bit of a carnival atmosphere, as well as a impressively steep berm seating area.
The Brula-Tour continued on, this time with a visit to the suite level.
I wanted to get a closer picture of that (officially licensed!) Elvis the Redbird painting behind the bar. But as soon as the bartender saw me, he was like, “C’mon now, what you have to do is pose in front of the picture with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s.”
What a great bartender!
While the picture didn’t come out all that clearly, there’s something about it that I really like.
And how’s this for a sweet suite, decorated in the style of a funky BBQ joint:
But there wasn’t much time to explore, because as is so often the case I had an obligation.
I was a pulled pork sandwich in the nightly rib race, going up against arch-nemeses Rib and Seasoning:
The gladiators enter the arena:
Despite the fact that the sandwich had the most range of movement, I got out to a slow start and finished in last place. It was embarrassing.
A considerably less taxing job was to follow — operating the largest videoboard in Minor League Baseball!
I did so under the able tutelage of marketing manager Erin O’Donnell, who explained things in a manner simple enough for an idiot (me) to understand. My notes are a bit garbled, however. They read: “Toggling btw viz ab and live shots…sponsor logos…Rockey cartoon overlay large and small…leave live shot when step in batter’s box — nothing may be moving in game.”
If you can make sense of that, let me know! All I know is that with a click of a mouse I made this happen:
Feeling giddy from this display of scoreboard power, I spent the rest of the evening trying to emulate Rockey’s cocksure strut. Things I saw on my wanderings included the team store…
and, outside of that, an outdoor display in which pitcher-turned-Redbirds broadcaster Charlie Lea (who passed away last year) delivers to notable Memphis native Tim McCarver.
And let’s not forget the specially marked “Albert Pujols seat” in right-center field, which commemorates his walk-off home run in the 13th inning of game four of the 2000 PCL Championship Series. It was all downhill for him from there.
And, hey, what do you know? The Redbirds won the game!
It was a result that was, truly, worth flipping out about.
And where else to end the night but here, between a pair of truly formidable calves.
It’s Tuesday, which means that a new “Promo Preview” column is live and ready for your reading enjoyment over on MiLB.com.
I hope that folks are reading the column, and digging the new format. The amount of feedback I’ve gotten thus far has been humbling — and not in a “humblebrag” sort of way, just humbling. I haven’t heard a single word, good or bad, about it.
But on it shall go, and on this post shall go. You may recall that in the season’s first Promo Preview column I wrote about supercentenarian first pitch tosser Shelby Harris, who kicked off the River Bandits’ season with a ceremonial offering. After the ballgame, I received the following photo and recap from River Bandits’ director of promotions Shane Huff.
Not only did [Shelby] participate in a pregame interview on the field with our media relations manager, Marco LaNave, but he overhand threw the ceremonial first pitch in front of a standing ovation of 4,783! Shelby talked about his love of baseball and his favorite team, the Chicago Cubs, in the interview, throwing in a comedic crack about the chilliness of the evening. He then followed that up with a very successful ceremonial first pitch. He stayed until the third inning – there we a combined 15 runs in a very lengthy second inning – and watched the game from a suite down the third base line.
[A]s the on-field emcee I introduced a lot of ceremonial first pitches last season, and none we as rousing and anticipated as tonight’s when Shelby took the mound. Between the media and the standing fans, it was by far one of the best experiences I’ve had since working in Minor League Baseball.
Another Home Opener of note occurred in Huntsville, as the Stars paid tribute to native son and distinguished baseball jack-of-all trades Don Mincher in a pre-game ceremony.
The Mincher family:
Oh, and stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the Memphis Redbirds now have the largest scoreboard in all of Minor League Baseball.
And, finally, here is the latest (and therefore greatest) addition to my slowly expanding roster of Ben’s Biz headshots. It was sent by a Florida-based operative, and comes with it’s own track listing (!)
- Rolling in Deep Left
- Southpaw Has It
- Turning Doubles
- Don’t You Remember that Rundown
- Set Fire to the Rain Tarp
- He Won’t Go Home
- Take It to the Alley
- I’ll Be Waiting in the Dugout
- One on Deck
- Late Inning LoveSong
- Someone Like Hak-Ju (Lee)
Keep ’em coming, folks. Keep ’em coming.