Tagged: Mobile Baybears 2015

Return to the Road: History en route to Mississippi

Once again, it is time to return to the road. This latest round of posts detail my late July/early August journey through a not-inconsiderable portion of the South. The previous installment detailed my time in the general area of Biloxi. Today we begin in Mobile, Alabama, home of the BayBears.

As is too often the case on my jam-packed road trips, I didn’t really have any time to explore Mobile. (I had the time when I was there in 2010, however).

Anyhow, here’s a picture taken from an elevated location.

IMG_0092And…that’s about all I have for Mobile. I was actively mobile throughout my entire stay and didn’t really have the time to take pictures. Early the next afternoon, before leaving town, I set my coordinates for a Vietnamese restaurant. Along the way, however, I saw this.

IMG_0094As a big fan of mudbugs — or crawfish, or crayfish, or whatever you want to call them — I felt compelled to alter my plans and stop in for lunch. However, I got confused and ordered a platter off of the “fried” menu instead of the “fresh.” This would be a mistake under any circumstances, but doubly so for me given my (unwanted but necessary) gluten-free reality.

After staring at this brown mound with a mixture of shock and horror, I left the restaurant in a state of shame and disgrace.

IMG_0093My bad luck (or, more accurately, ineptitude) continued at a nearby gas station, where a serious of payment issues, gas cap snafus and miscellaneous bloopers led to a prolonged ordeal. At the end of it I was so flustered that a fellow customer had to stop me from driving away with the hood of my car popped open. It was a complicated and embarrassing situation, and that night in my hotel room I recorded a six-minute monologue about it.

I will not share said monologue. Just know that, on the road, I sometimes experience mental meltdowns. But the bad times are more than made up for by the unexpected joys.

Unexpected joys such as finding this unorthodox salt and pepper distribution system in my Montgomery, Alabama hotel room.

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The next day, I left Montgomery (home of the Biscuits) and drove onward to Pearl, Mississippi (home of the Mississippi Braves). As it just so happened (I didn’t even realize it beforehand), my planned Route 80 excursion took me across the Alabama River via the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

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The Edmund Pettus Bridge was the location of one of the most indelible moments of the Civil Rights movement. On “Bloody Sunday” — March 7, 1965 — demonstrators were viciously attacked by police (and recently-deputized legitimized thugs) as they walked the bridge while en route to Montgomery to confront Governor George Wallace about the recent police murder of protester Jimmie Jackson. Two days later, with the nation watching, the demonstrators returned and, this time, were allowed to cross the bridge in peace. These events were powerfully depicted in the 2014 Martin Luther King biopic Selma. 

And there I was, driving across that very same bridge on a sleepy Sunday morning, while en route from one Minor League stadium to another. I pulled over in Selma’s nearly deserted downtown and walked across the bridge, feeling nearly overcome with emotion (including self-loathing, for not ever taking a true risk in service of a greater good). Pettus, a former Alabama governor, was a Grand Dragon in the KKK. And now his name will forever be associated with peaceful protest in service of racial equality.

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Downtown Selma

The Alabama River

The Alabama River

IMG_0120After that welcome pit stop, it was onward toward Pearl. Misunderstanding just how rural the drive would be, I didn’t fill up my tank when I had the chance and almost ran out of gas. I don’t know where this gas station was, but I was very happy to have found it.

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Finally, I made it to Mississippi.

IMG_0123In Mississippi, I found a pork rind that, to my addled brain, looked like baby Jesus’s manger. I shoulda sold it to the Weekly World News. 

IMG_0124Thanks, Truckland.

IMG_0139And thank you, for reading.

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On the Road: Raving About Dinner and Singing for Dessert in Mobile

To see all posts from my July 31, 2015 visit to the Mobile BayBears (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my July/August 2015 trip through the Deep South, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

This is David Haney, a 21-year-old majoring in sociology and criminal justice at the University of Mobile. He was born in Connecticut, but has lived in the Mobile area since a young age. He’s also a baseball fan, and estimates that he attends “probably 30-something” Mobile BayBears games each season. After graduating he said that he’d love to “get involved in the world of sports somehow. Mainly baseball.”

030On July 31, David had found a novel way to get involved in the world of sports. For on this evening, he had been recruited to serve as my designated eater (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). We met shortly after the game began, and David spent several innings partaking of the local foodstuffs. By the end of our time together, I imagine that he was feeling quite food-stuffed.

We began with a local specialty, recently added to the menu by BayBears food and beverage director Justin Gunsaulus (who spent 2013 and 2014 with the Lakewood BlueClaws before relocating to Mobile). This is a Conecuh sausage, named after the Alabama county in which it is produced and pronounced “Kuh-neck-a.”

029“People kept requesting it in the offseason,” said Justin. “It’s native to the region, so we went out there and got it.”

David was happy to be eating this hometown staple.

“It’s as good as any sausage in America, like times the taste by 10,” said David. “It’s a ‘Who’s Your Daddy’ kind of hot dog. The taste just explodes in your mouth. It’s extremely juicy. Spicy, but not too much. But just enough so its incredible. I’ve never had one at the ballpark, but Conecuh is a Southern version of a really good hot dog. They’re great for tailgating.”

In summary: David likes this sausage.

031Next up was a barbecue pulled chicken sandwich, served with fries.

033Let’s take a closer look.

034“It’s a good mix of barbecue and brilliantly cooked chicken, bundled up together,” said David. “There’s not too much sauce, and not too much grease. Just enough to make the taste buds happy.”

Good things come in threes, so David and I then went off in search of dessert. Our quest ended on the far end of the third base side of the concourse.

036Deep-fried Oreos were procured from this sedentary vehicle, and we then found an idyllic location in which to enjoy them.

038During our brief time together, I learned that David is a musician. He plays in RamCorps — the University of Mobile brass and percussion band — and does some singing “on the side.” Earlier in the season, he performed the National Anthem at a BayBears game. With all this mind, I asked David if he would mind singing for his dessert.

He obliged, and the results were, in a word, excellent. The lyrics have been embedded within my head ever since.

“It’s just an Oreo on steroids,” said David. “Hot. Nice and sugary. There can never be enough sugar. It’s crusty on the outside, soft and smooth on the inside.”

Sing it with me, everyone: Deep-fried Oreos.

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On the Road: Mobile in Mobile

To see all posts from my July 31, 2015 visit to the Mobile BayBears (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my July/August 2015 trip through the Deep South, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

Whenever I visit a Minor League ballpark, I never sit still. I am always wandering and wondering, wondering and wandering. “Where should I be right now? Who should I be talking to?” I am mobile, in other words, and on this evening I enjoyed the rare distinction of being mobile in Mobile. Hence, the headline of this post. I don’t know why I felt the need to explain it.

Anyhow, this is Part Two of this Mobile BayBears blogging saga. Part One described the wandering that took place prior to the ballgame, while this post involves that which took place during the game itself. It was July 31, and the BayBears were playing the Jacksonville Suns under a full moon.

So, you know: Play Ball!

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Beneath the hulking concrete edifice seen above, there is a concourse.

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This concourse contains many interesting things, such as a quartet of seats from the Atlanta Braves’ former home of Fulton County Stadium. Hank Aaron, Mobile native, played in this stadium for nine seasons (1966-74).

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On the right field side of the concourse, one can access the “Gaslight Park” outdoor area. And, within Gaslight Park, one can access the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum. Prior to the 2010 season, the BayBears relocated Aaron’s childhood home to this location. After renovating it, they stuffed it full of memorabilia from his life and career and opened it as a museum. (As mentioned in Part One of this post, I was there for 2010’s star-studded opening event)

Here’s the exterior of the Museum, as it looked during an earlier, brighter portion of the day.

005The Museum is open during all home games. As I approached the front door on this Friday evening, there was no one else around. No team employees, and no fans. I almost felt like I was trespassing. The door was unlocked, however, and upon entering I was greeted by a loud voice.

“Hi, I’m Henry Aaron.”

I wish that I could report that Aaron himself was there to greet me, but it was simply an introductory video playing on a loop in the front room.

042Here’s a quick Vine collage featuring some of what can be found within the Museum.

Much of the memorabilia chronicles highlights from throughout Hank’s long career.

044But even more interesting, in my estimation, is the recreation of the kitchen. This is how it looked during Hank’s childhood, some 70 or so years ago.

IMG_0080 I wasn’t in the Museum for very long, as I felt anxious to get back to the ballgame. In these situations, it is always best to be Aaron on the side of caution.

055It was now the bottom of the sixth inning, and outs were hard to come by. The BayBears batted around in the frame, which included a pitching change, and many of the at-bats were long and drawn out and punctuated by a barrage of foul balls. I mention this because, throughout the entire half-inning, a penned-in gaggle of young fans were (not so) patiently waiting for the opportunity to chase mascot Teddy across the outfield.

054After all that waiting, the chase kinda felt anti-climactic.

With no more mascot chases left to halfheartedly document, I headed up to the press box and enjoyed an inning on the air with BayBears broadcaster Justin Baker.

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Jacksonville Suns play-by-play man Roger “One Take” Hoover offered his hello from the adjacent booth.

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Being high up in the grandstand gave me the inspiration for the Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day:

I then returned to field level to interview Terry Williams, 63, “the world’s oldest batboy.” Terry, pictured here with his wife, Beverly, just completed his second season as batboy — or bat man — for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos. But on this evening in Mobile, he was simply enjoying watching a ballgame as a fan.   061Shortly after speaking with Terry, the Suns wrapped up a 7-4 victory over the hometown squad. I then headed over to the BayBears dugout to interview yet another legendary Southern League batboy. This is Wade Vadakin, 36, and his father, Jeff. IMG_0089

I wrote articles about both Terry and Wade, which you can find via this handy tweet:

And that just about did it as regards my night in Mobile. In conclusion, I submit these six seconds of parking lot pretension.

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On the Road: Hanks for the Memories in Mobile

To see all posts from my July 31, 2015 visit to the Mobile BayBears (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my July/August 2015 trip through the Deep South, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

The last time I visited Hank Aaron Stadium, the home of the Mobile BayBears, Hank Aaron himself was in attendance. The year was 2010, and the occasion was the opening of the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum. The name of this new attraction was nothing if not accurate, as the BayBears had relocated Hank’s childhood home (he grew up in Mobile) to the stadium grounds, renovated it, and stuffed it with memorabilia from throughout his long career.

A cavalcade of baseball A-listers were on hand for this gala opening occasion. This photo, which I took after emerging bruised and bloodied from within a harrowing media scrum, includes Bob Feller, Ozzie Smith, Bruce Sutter, Reggie Jackson, Aaron and Rickey Henderson. Bud Selig was also in attendance, as was Willie Mays(!). I may never be in such close proximity to baseball royalty again, at least until I am named King of Baseball 2051, and I myself am baseball royalty.

hofersOn that evening, I secured one-one-one interviews with Feller (RIP), Selig and Henderson. I was rebuffed by Reggie Jackson, however, who put his hand over my Flip Cam (remember those?) and slowly pushed it down without ever once making eye contact or speaking directly to me. The guy who Jackson was standing next to at the time — a D-backs front-office exec, if I remember correctly — felt embarrassed and tried to make small talk with me so that I wouldn’t feel like a total chump. Which I was. Which I am.

All of those memories came flooding back this past July 31, when I made a return trip to Mobile. On this evening, no Hall of Famers were in attendance. It was just a Friday night at the ballpark.

002The Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum, open during all games, is to the right of the facility proper.

003Hank Aaron Stadium opened in 1997, and it is now, somewhat improbably, the oldest stadium in the Southern League. Attendance has dipped in recent seasons, at least partially due to the opening of new ballparks in nearby Pensacola and, now, Biloxi.

The most unique design feature of the stadium — and, in my opinion, not a very good one — is that the suites are on the ground level.

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The suite entrances are lined up along the field-facing side of the concourse.

023This means that everyone who is not in a suite has to take the stairs to the upper level. There’s nothing wrong with walking up a flight of stairs — it’s good exercise! — but operationally speaking, it’s awkward for there to be a disconnect between where most fans are located and many of the places they are likely to want to be (concessions, restrooms, team store, etc).

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Here’s the “Upwardly Mobile” view, from the last row of the stadium.

007And here’s the view in the other direction. Hank Aaron Stadium is located in an indistinct portion of the city, surrounded by chain stores and shopping centers and the like.

008Back down on the aisle, I ran into an anthropomorphic cup. (Too bad Reggie wasn’t back in town, as he could have been the straw that stirs the drink.)

010And then it was back to the concourse.

This photo, it’s no good. But file under “Good idea that other teams should steal.” Honor thy gameday staff, always!

014I stared at this ad for a while and could not determine weather or not it was grammatically correct.

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This was the vantage point as I approached the berm from the left field side of the stadium. It looks to be a par four.

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I do like this approach to berm seating — optional and endlessly rearrangeable.

018Meanwhile, on the field, the players were involved in an elaborate interpretive dance routine.

020It was Faith Night at the ballpark, and a decent-sized crowd had begun to get settled into their second-level seats. (And while I am a proponent of faith, I am definitely not a proponent of the insipid, lobotomized Christian pop songs that always seem to soundtrack Faith Night promotions. A deep, abiding, soul-fulfilling belief in a higher power should not be mutually exclusive with having decent taste in music).

But that’s enough of my sermonizing. The game had begun. Mascot Teddy had settled in, presumably so that he could read this series of Mobile BayBears posts. That’ll do it for this one, but more will soon follow. The season never ends.

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About Last Night: Mobile BayBears, July 31, 2015

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll be writing an on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon my return home, I’ll provide the multifaceted blog coverage that you have come to know and, perhaps, even love. Let’s get to it, lest it get to us!

 July 31, 2015: Hank Aaron Stadium, home of the Mobile Baybears 

Opponent: Jacksonville Suns, 7:05 p.m. game time.

Hank Aaron Stadium, from the outside:

002Hank Aaron Stadium, from within: 

007Culinary Creation: Conecuh Sausage with peppers and onions

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Ballpark Characters: Batboy Wade Vadakin (now in his 18th season) with his father, Jack (who drives him to every game).

IMG_0089At Random: The kitchen in the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum (located on the grounds of the stadium, open during every game).

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Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: 

Next Up: 

Montgomery Biscuits: 8/1

Mississippi Braves: 8/2

Jackson Generals: 8/3

Nashville Sounds: 8/5

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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