Results tagged ‘ New England 2015 ’

Return to the Road: The Road Ends in Portland

For the last two and a half months, when time has allowed, I’ve written “Return to the Road” posts detailing my non-ballpark traveling experiences during the 2015 season. Today, that series of posts ends with this, a brief account of my time in Portland, Maine.

I arrived in Maine’s most populous city on the evening of September 3, and the next afternoon I had a couple of hours to spare before heading on over to the Sea Dogs’ home of Hadlock Field. Given that this would be my only full day in Maine, I felt like I almost had no choice but to get some lobster. After a thorough research effort (okay, an overwhelming Yelp consensus might have had something to do with it), I chose to visit Fishermen’s Grill.

IMG_0417In the above photograph, the Fishermen’s Grill looks impossibly tiny, kind of like the restaurant version of floor 7 1/2 in Being John Malkovich. But I made it inside, all 68 inches of me, and ordered a “lobstah” roll. Given my gluten-free obligations, I chose the option in which the lobster was served separate from the bread. There was a specific term for this option, but it now eludes me. I’ll call it the “Celiac Compromise.”

The lobster — tender, generously portioned, dipped in butter — was fantastic.

IMG_0415Afterwards I went for a brief stroll in Mayor Baxter Woods. When I came to a fork in the road, I took it.

IMG_0418I then took a short drive to Portland’s downtown, where parking was an ordeal. Finally finding a space for my (rented) Dodge Charger represented a moment of triumph so profound that I documented it for posterity.

IMG_0421The statue in the below photo is reads “PORTLAND: To Her Sons Who Died for the Union.” I like that the dude on the right accidentally snuck into the shot, representing Bob Marley to the fullest on this late summer afternoon.

IMG_0422While parking was tough in Portland’s downtown, the flip side was that it was good for pedestrians.

IMG_0423I’m a big fan of Little Lad’s popcorn, whose “herbal” variety is available here in New York City. Therefore, I was happy to have stumbled upon the Little Lad’s Cafe, which had a plethora of Little Lad’s flavors I had not previously enjoyed. (That said, the original “Herbal” flavor remains my favorite.)

IMG_0426Time was running out (time always seems to be running out while I’m on the road), but I was able to squeeze in one last record store visit. In addition to LPs, Electric Buddha had a variety of old video games as well as a nicely-curated selection of pop culture detritus.

IMG_0425I focused my energy on the records, per usual, and among those I walked away with was “Early Steppenwolf.” This 1967 live LP has since blown my mind to an extent I wasn’t expecting.

And, hey, that’s all I’ve got, as my 2015 road trip posts are now 100% complete. I ended the season looking like this; expect a leaner, meaner and cleaner Ben’s Biz in 2016.

IMG_04132016 ballpark trip schedule coming soon. Hope to see you on the road!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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Return to the Road: In-Cider Information in Burlington

I went on five ballpark road trips in 2015, including one in New England. But the time that I spent in Burlington, Vermont, was not part of that trip. It was a standalone long weekend that included Minor League Baseball (the Vermont Lake Monsters, natch) as well as a variety of other diverting and educational activities.

One such activity took place on the afternoon of Saturday, July 11. My cousin, Ali, and I visited Burlington’s Citizen Cider.
009Our visit was arranged by the Lake Monsters, who count Citizen Cider as one of their sponsors. Their ciders are sold at Centennial Field, within the outfield-area Vermont Frames Pavilion and Bar. Upon arriving, we were greeted by company co-founder Kris Nelson.

002Kris, originally from Staten Island, moved to Vermont in 2002 and initially was employed in the field of social work. He later became involved in the wine business, and in this capacity met chemist Bryan Holmes and farmer Justin Heilenbach. They bonded over a mutual interest in hard cider and its untapped potential, and founded Citizen Cider in 2010. Their first location was a decommissioned military base, Fort Ethan Allen; the current Burlington location, comprising a bar, restaurant and 6000 square-foot production facility, opened in 2014.

Kris said that the initial reaction to this business venture was generally along the lines of “Cider? Why cider?” But he and his co-founders persevered, believing that the skepticism was a result of a lack of knowledge.

“We just kept marching forward,” he said. “We asked ourselves, ‘Why is cider not happening?’ At the time, it was always marketed to young women. And then came Angry Orchard and why is that? Because men are angry?…Cider wasn’t cool, people weren’t connected. We’re Citizen Cider because we wanted to create ciders for the people.”

Kris set us up with two tasting flights, comprised of 10 ciders total. (Pun apple-ations for said ciders are not just tolerated. They’re encouraged.) The apples are obtained within a 250-mile radius of Burlington, and pressed at the Happy Valley Orchard in Middlebury.

menuI like alcohol, sometimes too much, but cider is especially appealing to me as it is naturally gluten-free. Since getting diagnosed with celiac disease in 2012, I have had to give up drinking beer and, thus, cider has stepped into the void. Kris said that the rise of gluten-free diets (whether it’s a medical necessity or otherwise) is “great timing” for Citizen’s Cider. Hey, if somebody’s got to profit off of my disease then it may as well be these guys.

We started with the first five ciders on the list, excepting the beer-infused (and thus not gluten-free) “Citizen Zero.”

001Pale translucence was a consistent theme here, but each cider had its own taste. What follows are my not very in-depth notes; click on each cider’s name to see the official description (when possible).

Unified PressThe flagship cider. Drinkable, dry and crisp.

Wit’s Up:  Very dry, less acidic. Fermented from Belgian Wit yeast.

Happy Valley Heirloom: Fruity and tart.

B-Cider:  Made with honey. Light and sweet.

OlmstedMade with wild apples. Heavy and dry.

Round 2:

IMG_1589From left to right:

Northern Spy:  Made entirely with Northern Spy apples. Acidic.

The Americran:  Made with cranberries and apples.

“We buy from Cranberry Bob,” Kris told me. Cranberry Bob appears to work for the Vermont Cranberry Company. I mean, when your name is Cranberry Bob, then I guess you have no choice but to go into the cranberry biz.

Brose: Rose for bros. Made with Vermont blueberries, which I assume were provided by Blueberry Bob.

The Full Nelson“It tastes like a floral IPA,” said Kris. This one’s designed to appeal to the beer drinkers who may be wary of embracing cider.

Dirty Mayor“Rick is the Dirty Mayor,” said Kris, though I no longer remember who Rick is. At any rate, Kris described this one as “emotionally challenging” as it’s not a true cider. A nip of ginger is what makes it dirty.

We then headed next door to the production facility. The truck in the below photo was carrying a payload of unpasteurized sweet cider.

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Cans? What is this, a French film festival?

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Each fermentation tank holds 3000 gallons of cider.

005The cider is aged in these “refreshed” whisky barrels.

006I no longer remember the function of this intimidating looking apparatus, and probably didn’t understand it in the first place.

007What I did understand was that Citizen Cider makes an excellent array of products, and that their partnership with the Lake Monsters makes a lot of sense.

“Cider was a national pastime, but it’s been forgotten,” said Kris. “Absolutely, people were drinking cider and watching baseball at the turn of the century. So we love that our stuff is in the ballpark.

“We hope that cider is back, and back to stay. It’s what we’re betting our lives on.”

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Return to the Road: New England Fun Spots

Opening Day is less than three weeks away. Believe me, I am aware. But before debuting my 2016 road trip itineraries (coming soonish!), I’d like to finish my series of 2015 “Return to the Road” posts. (These posts, as you probably know, highlight my non-ballpark road trip experiences.)

My fifth and final road trip of the season was a late August/early September jaunt through New England. As you can see, the Vermont Lake Monsters trip was actually a one-off stop in July, but I’m going to write about it as if it was part of this itinerary. It’ll all make sense in the end.

neFrom Norwich to New Britain to Lowell to Pawtucket, this trip was a blur. Regarding those cities I have nothing in my files regarding anything that happened outside the ballpark. It was simply a matter of keeping one foot in front of the other as I mixed metaphors while bouncing from one place to the next.

The only random picture I have from those first four days is this selfie, taken at a Vietnamese restaurant somewhere in the vicinity of Lowell.

Beautiful.

IMG_0320The narrative, such as it is, begins on the morning of September 2. I woke up in Providence, where I stayed after having seen the PawSox the previous evening.

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IMG_0362Early that afternoon, I met my friend Jake for lunch. We were comedy scene pals in NYC, but he abandoned me in favor of pursuing a modeling career in Rhode Island. Go figure.

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Jake and I grabbed lunch from one of the food trucks set up in downtown’s Kennedy Plaza, and then took a seat in this rather idyllic wooded environment.

IMG_0363After lunch, we checked out the local waterways.

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IMG_0366Our time together was brief. Jake had to rush off to a photo shoot, and I had to make my way to Manchester, New Hampshire.

Before leaving Providence, I checked out the site of the proposed downtown ballpark that would replace Pawtucket’s McCoy Stadium. For myriad reasons, this plan has since been abandoned.

What could have been

What could have been

I saw a New Hampshire Fisher Cats game on the night of September 2. The following afternoon, before leaving town, I made a pit stop at a local record store.

IMG_0389Unfortunately, The Music Connection was closed. But now I know where I’m celebrating my next birthday.

IMG_0390I had better luck later on in the day, when I swung by Pitchfork Records in Concord, New Hampshire.

IMG_0396Pitchfork Records had a ramshackle, curmudgeonly vibe. I know I bought something, but, at this late juncture, I can’t remember what it was. Just know that if I bought it, then it had to have been good.

IMG_0398Deeper into the evening, I made a pit stop in Laconia, New Hampshire. You wouldn’t know it by looking at this particular photo, but this building houses one of the world’s largest collections of classic video games.

IMG_0402I had arrived at Funspot, the iconic arcade that was prominently featured in the 2007 documentary King of Kong. Being a weeknight in September, the place was kinda dead.

IMG_0401My photos do not do Funspot justice, but for people of a certain age it is a major nostalgia trip. For people of a younger age than those of a certain age, it is a blast from an unknown and now largely incomprehensible past. Coin-op is dead. Long live coin-op.

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A tribute to Keith Apicary, video game legend:

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And this, I assume, is a tribute to a Minor League Baseball legend:

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I skipped the miniature golf.

IMG_0405But I did try my hand at candlepin bowling. Unlike standard “10 Pin” bowling, the balls and pins are much smaller.

IMG_0410Though I’m a fairly decent bowler, my candlepin efforts were abysmal. You get much less pin action than with “normal” bowling, and I could not get in any sort of rhythm. I was also confused by the fact that one gets three rolls per frame, but a spare only counts if all the pins are knocked down in the second shot. I didn’t get any spares.

Afterwards, I was too frustrated to join — or start — the party.

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On the Road: Father, son and lobster in Portland

To see all posts from my September 4, 2015 visit to the Portland Sea Dogs (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

Embden, a small town in central Maine, is surrounded by the Kennebec and Carrabassett Rivers. The town’s website declares that its current population is an estimated 939 people, who are “proud of our history and optimistic about our future.”

I met two of those proud and optimistic people at the Sept. 4 Portland Sea Dogs game: Erik Carey and his 11-year-old son, Luke.

047Embden is over 100 miles north of Portland; one would think that would be a prohibitive distance for Erik and Luke to travel on a regular basis. But if one would think that, then one would think wrong.

Erik and Luke are Sea Dogs season-ticket holders, who regularly make the long drive to Hadlock Field together.

“My wife has been to one game, my daughter has been to one. I think Luke and I have been to about 30,” said Erik, an eighth-grade teacher with 20 years of experience in the education field.

On these frequent father and son excursions to Hadlock Field, Dad drives while his son reads. These trips are so long and so frequent that Luke was able to read the bulk of the entire Harry Potter series while riding alongside his dad on trips to and from the ballpark.

On this particular evening, Erik and Luke varied up their Sea Dogs routine by serving as my designated eaters (you know, the individuals recruited to consume the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits).

We began at the Shipyard Brew Pen, located at the far end of the third-base line.

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Shortly after we arrived in the area, there was a commotion behind us — shouts, squeals, nervous glances toward the sky and the sound of uncertain footsteps.

A foul ball was headed our way!

Erik dove for cover, but Luke kept his eyes on the prize. The ball bounced off of the asphalt and onto the roof of the Brew Pen, whereupon it rolled straight down and into Luke’s waiting hands.

Congratulations to Luke, the first-ever designated eater to snag a foul ball.

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The Shipyard Brew Pen sells lobster rolls, and when in Maine, you’ve gotta get a lobster roll. Right?

The Sea Dogs’ lobster rolls are provided by Beal’s Lobster Pier.

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Now it was Erik’s time to shine.

“This is pretty good…” Erik began.

“But not as good as my catch!” interrupted Luke, still psyched to have snagged an official game-used Eastern League ball. But back to Erik:

“Uh, um, uh, there’s so much pressure,” he said, searching for a way to describe the lobster roll. “Let me take one more bite.”

043“Does it taste like an egg salad?” asked Luke.

“No…” said Erik, still at a loss for words. He and Luke then commiserated briefly, using teamwork to come up with the following lobster roll description:

“The creaminess of the lobster melds well with the crunch of the bread.”

Erik, like the lobster, was now on a roll.

“The best part is that that the meat is not rubbery, and the sauce, there’s just enough,” he continued. “I’m really getting the lobster taste, not the mayonnaise.”

“Hey, you’re doing good!” said Luke.

“Yeah. Thanks, Buddy.”

For dessert, it was my duty to procure Luke and Erik a Muddy Biscuit from a concourse concession stand such as this.

018

New for the 2015 season, the Muddy Biscuit is a chocolate-dipped variation of the Hadlock Field treat known as the Sea Dog Biscuit: Shain’s of Maine vanilla ice cream served between two chocolate chip cookies.

Luke, introducing the Muddy Biscuit:

Like father, like son.

046Luke is no stranger to Sea Dog Biscuits and Muddy Biscuits, estimating that he’d had about “40 or 50” of them this season.

“This makes me sound like a bad parent,” said Erik. “Just wait until Mom reads this. … See, it’s not the cost of the travel down here. It’s not the cost of the tickets. I’m getting crushed by him at the concession stand.”

Luke wasn’t phased by his Dad’s accusations. He was lost in a dessert-based reverie.

“Would you say that the cookies and the ice cream complement one another? I’d say they do.”

“I don’t know,” replied Erik, before deciding that Luke’s Muddy Biscuit hypothesis was dead on. “It’s the perfect combination of a baked good and ice cream. Separate they are awesome, but when you put two great things together, you can’t go wrong.”

This sounded like an analogy for the father-and-son relationship — “When you put two great things together, you can’t go wrong.” Seeking to give Erik a rare upper hand in the dialogue, I asked Luke, “On a scale of 1-10, how thankful are you that your Dad takes you to these games?”

After much hemming and hawing, Luke grudgingly replied “10.”

“See, he doesn’t want to say anything nice about me,” said Erik. “Because he knows that I’ll remind him at the most inopportune moment.”

Note: My 2015 “On the Road” blog posts and articles are now finished. Thanks to everyone who followed along, and please feel free to get in touch any time about anything. Now the offseason truly begins. I’m going on vacation.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: The Maine Event in Portland

To see all posts from my September 4, 2015 visit to the Portland Sea Dogs (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, 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 place smells good and looks good.”

The above sentence is scrawled in my notebook, on one of the pages dedicated to chronicling my evening at Hadlock Field. So, yeah, I was in a pretty good mood during this Friday evening ballgame against the New Britain Rock Cats. (Yes, the same New Britain Rock Cats who had already played their final home game, and who were now in the midst of their last-ever series.)

029Even the Trash Monster was smelling pretty good on this idyllic late-summer evening.

030Yes, you can actually throw your trash inside the Trash Monster. He is an anthropomorphic garbage can, and his diligent research on my part resulted me in learning that his favorite movie is The Garbage Picking Field Goal Kicking Philadelphia Phenomenon

I was particularly happy to have run into the Trash Monster, as I ended up missing out on some other key elements of the Sea Dogs’ gameday experience. The “Lobster Toss” between-inning contest occurred when I was at the concession stands with my designated eater, so I was unable to document that grand Portland tradition. Furthermore, I never got to see the “Home Run Lighthouse” emerge from beyond the center field wall, as no Sea Dogs players went deep in the ballgame. Spoiler alert! The Sea Dogs failed to score even a single run.

But life goes on, long after the thrill of blogging about it is gone. After saying goodbye to Trash Monster, I went upstairs to visit the press box.

036The view from the radio booth is a particularly good one.

IMG_0432And it’s probably even better once stuffed Slugger no longer blocks the view.

IMG_0431With this as my vantage point, I spent an inning on the radio with Sea Dogs broadcaster Mike Antonellis. That’s Mike on the left, and on the right is….is…I’m sorry, I can’t read my notes. Please forgive me, sir, and tell me your name one more time as it has slipped just beyond memory’s reach.

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Update: His name’s Mark!

mark

The path from the press box down to the front office is a treacherous one.

033But I didn’t go that route. I took the elevator, under the watchful eye of Slugger.

I was now closer to the ground.

037The ballgame was played with grace and alacrity, moving at a jackrabbit clip throughout. After meeting with my designated eater — this will be documented in the next post — it was already the seventh inning. The scoreboard contained nothing but zeroes and the denizens of the visitor’s bullpen were growing restless.

049I didn’t get a good photo, but here’s Frank the usher leading the crowd in the requisite between-inning version of “Sweet Caroline.”

051Frank, a retired postal worker, used be an usher at Fenway Park. I caught up with him after the game; note that he is singing into a plastic American Idol microphone and that his name tag reads “Neil Diamond.”

064Time was running out, and my opportunities to document new stadium vantage points was running out right along with it. With grace and alacrity, moving at a jackrabbit clip, I set my coordinates for the pavilion seats in right field.

I took this photo en route, simply because right angles are not common within seating bowl curvature.

054 This entire right field section emulates the “Monster Seats” at Fenway Park. Here’s the view from the last row.

055To my right was a giant inflatable L.L. Bean boot.

056The Rock Cats finally broke through with three runs in the eighth inning. As the bottom of the ninth approached, the score remained 3-0. Slugger tried to rev up the crowd with a skit in which he dressed up as Rocky, which is weird because the mascot of the opposing team is actually named Rocky.

The Sea Dogs bullpen was like, “Whatever, dude. Can’t you just get to the end of this post? It’s, like, November now. It’s time to move on.”

061The inimitably-named Forrestt Allday singled to lead off the ninth, but that was followed by a double play and a strikeout.

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The game was over, having taken just two hours and one minute to play.

My last act of the game — and the season — was to record my requisite Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day. (And, yes, it was “Bark in the Park Night.” I just didn’t get any good dog photos.)

I’ve got nothing left to write.

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On the Road: Replica Monsters and Big Boots in Portland

To see all posts from my September 4, 2015 visit to the Portland Sea Dogs (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

There are seven Minor League Baseball teams in New England, distributed with admirable equity on a state-by-state basis. There are two in Connecticut and one each in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine. I have already documented my ballpark visits to all of the teams in all of these states, save for one.

Did I save the best for last? You tell me.

Yes, my ballpark travels culminated in Portland, Maine. Not only was Hadlock Field my last stop of the 2015 season, it was also the last Eastern League team I had yet to visit. When I arrived at the ballpark, it was with a sense of satisfaction, exhaustion, anticipation and sadness. It was all going to end here, at a ballpark that opened in 1994 and has hosted the Sea Dogs ever since. (The Sea Dogs were one of two Eastern League expansion teams in 1994; this expansion was a result of the Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies joining the MLB ranks.)

004Slugger the Sea Dog has some serious musculature in that left arm of his, as he is able to perpetually hoist up a bulky electronic sign without breaking a sweat.

003If one were to turn around 180 degrees, and look in the same direction that Slugger is looking, one would see a tableau similar to the following. Hadlock Field is located in Portland proper, just off of route 295, west of the heart of downtown.

006Just down the street, on the first-base side of the stadium, stands a statue of a different sort. This, the work of sculptor Rhonda Sherbell, is called “American Baseball Family.” It was installed in 2007, and the source of at least one hilarious and oft-maddening Baseball Think Factory thread.

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I think the Dad has gotten fed up for some reason, and now trying to sell the tickets to a more baseball-worthy family. The boy is like “Are you kidding me?” while Mom has her hands full to the point where she doesn’t really care one way of the other.

002Mom just can’t seem to shake that Teddy Bear from her palm. That thing must’ve been coated with adhesive.

007Upon arriving, I was welcomed as a visiting celebrity should be welcomed.

010My logo was designed by Sean Kane. The Sea Dogs logo was designed by cartoonist Guy Gilchrist, who is probably best known for writing and drawing Nancy. It just occurred to me that “Sluggo” is a key character in the Nancy strip, and Slugger is the Sea Dogs mascot. I think some sort of Nancy and Slugger mash-up is in order. How about it, Mr. Gilchrist?

Hadlock Field’s outfield is a colorful cornucopia of props, signage and seats. On the far right in the below photo, mostly obscured, is a pavilion featuring Fenway-emulating “Monster Seats.” There is also an inflatable L.L. Bean boot, installed atop the elevated outfield bullpens.

008Here’s a closer look at the boot. Note that a pitcher is warming up in front of the “SymQuest” sign. There is also a sign for Bangor Savings Bank, and who knows? Maybe that’s where Stephen King keeps his money.

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From 1994 through 2002, the Sea Dogs were a Marlins affiliate. This made sense — the Sea Dogs owe their existence to MLB’s 1993 expansion — but was obviously less than ideal. The team became a Boston affiliate in 2003, however, and this obviously was ideal as Portland is most certainly a part of Red Sox Nation.

Hadlock Field’s “Green Monster” was added prior to the 2003 season in celebration of the affiliation; the Sea Dogs’ Monster is the same height as Fenway (37 feet) and even includes the names of Sea Dogs owners Dan and Bunny Burke in Morse Code on the scoreboard (the Yawkeys are immortalized similarly at Fenway). Dan Burke died in 2011, and his son Bill now serves as team chairman. Former Eastern League president Charlie Eshbach, the 2013 “King of Baseball,” was the Sea Dogs’ first employee and team president.

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The home dugout looks normal enough…

012 …except that there is a toilet located at the far end (as in the end closest to first base). I don’t think I’d ever seen a toilet in the dugout before. Usually the closest one is in the clubhouse, or in the tunnel leading to the clubhouse.

At first I thought that Slugger was reprimanding me for taking video and photos of the dugout bathroom.

015But it turns out that he was just Voguing.

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Strike a pose, there’s nothing to it

Before leaving the field for less-greener pastures, I interviewed Sea Dogs pitcher Matt McCarthy about his charity work in general and involvement with Baseball Miracles in particular. It’s a worthwhile story.

Meanwhile, the gates had opened and fans were streaming into the concourse. It was the Friday of Labor Day weekend, and the number of fans wearing shorts and a long-sleeve shirts illustrates summer’s transition into fall.

018The Friday of Labor Day weekend was a pretty good night to attend a game, but, of course and as always, it wasn’t the best game that I could have been in attendance. If I had only come two days later, I would have witnessed the Sea Dogs’ signature “Field of Dreams Game.” The players, wearing 1926 Portland Eskimos uniforms, literally emerge from a cornfield en route to mingling with the fans and thanking them for their support.

field of dreamsNothing of that magnitude was going on this evening, however. Dustin Pedroia was being inducted onto the team’s Wall of Fame, but this was done in absentia as Dustin was otherwise engaged in Boston. Sea Dogs media relations director Chris Cameron, who was very helpful both before and during my visit, can be seen in the plaque’s reflection. Hi, Chris.

011Dustin is one of many Sea Dogs to have made it to the Majors. This list is alphabetical; knuckleballer Charlie Zink is the last one on it.

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And as for Hadlock Field itself? It was named after a local high school baseball coach.

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Meanwhile, back out on the field, the game was rapidly approaching. Patriotic songs were in the process of being sung.

023And then it was time to play ball.

027Hadlock Field is beautiful, and there is still much more to come. My 2015 season in blogging ain’t quite done yet.

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On the Road: The Kids are Alright in Vermont

To see all posts from my July 11, 2015 visit to the Vermont Lake Monsters (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

As mentioned previously, my visit to Burlington, Vermont to see the Lake Monsters was not part of my end-of-season New England road trip. It was a standalone visit that took place on July 11, which I have since shoehorned into my larger New England narrative.

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Centennial Field, home of the Vermont Lake Monsters. July 11, 2015

When in Vermont I stayed in neighboring Hinesburg with my cousin, Ali, her husband Jim, and their two kids Jason and Becca. (I call Ali my cousin, but her Mom and my Dad are cousins so technically I think we’re “first cousins once removed.” And her kids are, what? Second cousins once removed? It gets confusing really quickly.)

Ali, Jason and Becca accompanied me to July 11’s Lake Monsters game at Centennial Field, and I recruited the latter two to serve as my designated eaters (you know, the individuals recruited to consume the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.)

Jason and Becca were joined in this endeavor by Jason’s friend, Devon. Jason and Devon are in fifth grade, while Becca is in second grade. Let’s meet them:

Centennial Field is the oldest stadium in Minor League Baseball (the grandstand was built in 1922, but games have been played there dating back to 1906). Operationally speaking, the Lake Monsters don’t have the capabilities to offer a wide array of outlandish and/or regionally specific items (the bread and butter of most of my food posts).

Furthermore, my designated eaters, being kids, did not have the most sophisticated palettes. They wanted the basics anyway, and the Lake Monsters are adept at providing the basics.

029Thus, we have Jason with a double cheeseburger…

034…Becca with a personal cheese pizza…

033…and Devon with a foot-long hot dog.

035This was all taking place within the picnic area located down the third base line.

036Let’s begin with Jason’s double cheeseburger, which he had kept in a pristine, condiment-free state:

030“I don’t like ketchup or mustard,” said Jason. “Mustard tastes weird. And I don’t like relish. I just don’t like it.”

He was far more charitable toward the cheeseburger itself, remarking that “It’s good. The cheese is actually melted and the bun is good, too. A double burger may sound like a lot, but it’s actually the perfect amount.”

As for what food he’d like to see at the ballpark, Jason said that it’d be great if the Lake Monsters sold Moe’s tacos. He then recanted this sentiment, wisely stating that “I take it back. I don’t want chains, I want people to know about local restaurants. So how about Public House? They have good baseball food, I think.”

Our focus then turned toward Becca’s pizza.

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Becca, in this case, was a second-grader of few words.

“I think it’s really good,” she said. “The sauce is really good.”

She then added that her ideal ballpark food would be “Strawberry and chocolate donuts, and maybe even some coconuts.”

Becca might be the first kid in the history of kids to like coconuts.

Finally, we have Devon’s foot-long hot dog. Like his buddy Jason, Devon eschews condiments. Perhaps this is why they are friends.

031“I like ketchup but only on fries,” said Devon, seeking to clarify that he did not have an across-the-board anti-condiment philosophy. “This is the longest hot dog I’ve ever seen. I wish that on ‘Hot Dog Heaven Day’ [when the Lake Monsters sell hot dogs for a quarter] they would launch these into the stands.”

As for how the hot dog tasted, Devon offered a single word in response: “Good.” He then explained that his ideal ballpark food would be “Pizza and then edible baseballs. Like, a sphere cake, vanilla, with white frosting and red stitches.”

“They could call it ‘Cake Me Out to the Ballgame,'” I said in response. This was followed by an unamused silence.

Edible baseballs were not available as a dessert option. But Chesster’s ice cream cookie sandwiches, a Vermont convenience store staple, were agreed by all to be an acceptable alternative.

037Becca, Jason and Devon ate in unison.

038“The cookies are really good. They’re not hard and they don’t crumble,” said Jason.

“They’re really good with the creamy ice cream in the middle,” added Becca, who, for the record is also capable of making a funny face while eating a Chesster’s ice cream cookie sandwich.

039With the designated eating complete, I asked Devon, Jason and Becca how they would rate the experience on a scale of “One to 275,550.”

Devon: 2,700

Jason: 4/5ths.

Becca: What was the highest number again? [I told her.] Okay, that.

Alright, then. Any final words before we wrap this up?

Becca: Kids ruin everything. Except me. I’m awesome.

Jason: I would recommend going to Vermont if you’re close by. Except for Essex. Don’t go to Essex.

[Note: Jason and and Devon are on the same hockey team, and Essex is their biggest rival.] 

Devon: If you’re near the Vermont Lake Monsters stadium and they’re in town, then you should go.

I couldn’t have said it any better myself, Devon. Centennial Field is a good place to eat, and a better place to see a baseball game.

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On the Road: Bolting Around the Field and Admiring the Skye in Burlington

To see all posts from my July 11, 2015 visit to the Vermont Lake Monsters (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, 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 previous post in this Vermont Lake Monsters series was dubbed, accurately and originally, as Part One. In the interest of maintaining my high standards of consistency, this post shall henceforth be referred to as Part Two.

Part Two now begins with the game in progress. It was a beautiful Saturday evening, and the Lake Monsters were hosting the West Virginia Black Bears at historic Centennial Field.

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Early in the game, I spent an inning or so talking to longtime season ticket-holder Skip Farrell. Skip’s devotion to the Lake Monsters runs deep, to the extent that he even got married at Centennial Field. His wife, Wendy, wasn’t with him at the time, so I promised to stop by later to say hello.

028Skip was keeping score at the game, which meant he had the honor and privilege of documenting Skye Bolt’s each and every at-bat.

IMG_1595Yes, Skye Bolt! It might not be as great of a name as Storm Throne, but it’s pretty close.

My more immediate concerns were tertiary, however, as I had been tasked with driving a lap around the infield in this glorified Go-Kart.

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Specifically, I was tasked with delivering a bottle of water to each of the two umpires. I would then take a lap around around the field, collect the bottles, take another lap around the field and depart from whence I had came. And that’s what happened, more or less.

deliveryvehicle

Driving and Vining. I should probably have gotten a citation for this.

For the rest of the evening, I stuck to walking. A stroll down the first-base line eventually led me to these fresh mascot tracks.

044The tracks led to an outfield area featuring a bar — Citizen Cider on tap! — and, beyond that, a Fun Zone. This is the perfect combination in that kids get to play while parents get to drink.

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Vermont Frames Pavilion and Bar

I enjoyed the view from out this way.

046Also enjoying the view was my MLB Advanced Media co-worker Brian Bednarski, his wife, Carrie, and their son, Pete. They, like me, were enjoying some time away from the Big Apple. Pete’s looking over at the Fun Zone like “Oh, yeah — just give me a year or two and I’ll be the king of that place.”

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The Bednarskis, birds, Burlington, Ben’s Biz Blog. It truly was a beautiful night for baseball.

What could be better than singing the seventh-inning stretch at Minor League Baseball’s oldest ballpark on a gorgeous summer evening?

A Skye Bolt appears amid tranquility:

IMG_1599Following Champ’s footsteps was one thing, but I eventually ran into Champ himself. Mythical creature or not, he’s a pretty big deal around these parts.

054A slightly more rigid iteration of Champ can be found guarding one of the Centennial Field entranceways. This sculpture was made by a local fan, out of just one piece of wood. A chainsaw was involved.

059Speaking of pieces of wood that the team acquired for free, this table used to be a Burlington Telecom cable spool. (This idea was borrowed by the Connecticut Tigers, who have done the same thing at their home of Dodd Stadium.)

056To the right of the spool tables, one could find local youths lounging in recliners by the dugout.

057To the left of the spool tables were tables of the picnic variety.

058It’s time to table this discussion, as under the grandstand there are no tables.

060With the game almost over, I checked in on Skip once again. His vantage point remained impeccable.

061 And this time, his wife was with him.

062It’s easy to remember one’s anniversary when one has said anniversary affixed to one’s seat. But isn’t weird that they got married on a Wednesday? Oh, wait…

065I also got a photo of Skip’s season-ticket holder cup, in order to satisfy all of the #cupdate fiends out there. The owners of these cups are entitled to $1 refills, all season long.

IMG_1601As I spoke with Skip and Wendy, the game came to an end. The Black Bears, having scored three runs in the eighth inning and three more in the ninth, won by a score of 7-3. (Skye Bolt, despite having a name worthy of a creator deity, went 0-for-4 for the Lake Monsters.)

064And that did it for my evening with the Lake Monsters.

While leaving, I mimicked an action that I had taken upon arrival: I took a picture of the house that is located directly across the street from the stadium.

067If a politician running for office used this as a campaign slogan, he (or she) would get my vote.

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On the Road: An Old School Field in Burlington

To see all posts from my July 11, 2015 visit to the Vermont Lake Monsters (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

Before delving into this post, a bit of clarification is needed: I didn’t visit the Vermont Lake Monsters as part of my end-of-the-season New England road trip. It was a one-off visit that took place July 11, as part of a long weekend in Burlington that was otherwise dedicated to non-Minor League pursuits (including, yes, a Weird Al concert).

But since the Lake Monsters are most certainly a New England-based team, I decided to shoehorn my Centennial Field visit into my ongoing New England ballpark narrative. Therefore, I am writing these Vermont posts as if they were part of the same trip. I mean, they could’ve been.

The Lake Monster play at Centennial Field, one of the oldest professional sports stadiums in the entire country. The ballpark is located across the street from a purple house bearing a tree-obscured message. That message is “Cut consumption, not foreskin.”

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Longtime readers of this blog, who may exist, will remember that I’ve written about the above house before. This is because I’ve visited the Vermont Lake Monsters before. The year was 2009, when I was still tentatively dipping my toes into the roiling “exploring America through Minor League Baseball” waters.

Centennial Field is located on the University of Vermont (UVM) campus, behind a soccer field that has also been used for football and lacrosse. UVM teams no longer play on this field, but it is still well maintained.

012After traversing the width of the soccer field, one arrives at the baseball portion of Centennial Field. UVM cut its baseball program in 2009, which led to fears that the Lake Monsters would leave town. UVM agreed to a 20-year lease with the Lake Monsters in 2012, however, at the bargain price of $1 a year.

014Centennial Field was first christened  as such well over a centennial ago, and the grandstand dates back to 1922. No matter how you want to contextualize it, it is the oldest ballpark currently in use by a Minor League Baseball team (others built in the ’20s include Bowman Field in Williamsport and McCormick Field in Asheville). However, Centennial Field didn’t host Minor League Baseball until 1955 and not on a consistent basis until the appearance of the Eastern League’s Vermont Reds in 1984.

018Burlington is a good market for short-season Minor League Baseball, and Lake Monsters owner Ray Pecor is committed to the area. Otherwise, it is a near-certainty that the Lake Monsters would have departed for a city possessing (or constructing) a facility with modern amenities. The team has done what they can to upgrade Centennial Field, with Pecor contributing some $2 million for necessities such as field renovation, a new videoboard, new light towers and much more. Even with a $1 a year lease, running a team out of an ancient ballpark can be an expensive proposition.

One improvement that fans might not notice is that the visitor’s clubhouse is now located underneath the scoreboard. Previously, the players had been housed in this small building on the far side of the adjacent soccer field.

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On the evening in which I was in attendance, the videoboard was highlighting the imminent battle of old (the Lake Monsters) vs. new (the visiting West Virginia Black Bears, playing their inaugural season after relocating from Jamestown, New York).

One thing that the teams have in common is that they are both New York-Penn League teams who operate outside of New York and Pennsylvania. Discuss.

021Another thing that the Lake Monsters have in common with the Black Bears is that they, too, began life in the New York-Penn League after relocating from Jamestown. Vermont played its inaugural season in 1994 as the “Expos,” and kept the Expos name through the 2005 campaign (at which point, they were the last professional franchise to bear the Expos name). The “Lake Monsters” appellation was adopted in 2006, a nod to the Loch Ness-like monster that allegedly resides in nearby Lake Champlain. In 2011, after 17 seasons with the Expos/Nationals, the Lake Monsters became an Oakland affiliate. Burlington is only 3,012 miles away from Oakland.

Despite the myriad improvements made to Centennial Field in recent years, it can’t help but maintain a rustic, throwback feel. This is a good thing, and I defy anyone (not involved with player development) to tell me otherwise.

020The concourse, such as it is, runs along the outside of the stadium. Narrow, low-slung pathways lead into the seating bowl proper.

026Outside of one such entrance way, Champ was mingling with his core demographic.

040The concession stands are located in standalone buildings on the other side of the concourse. Team offices are located in separate buildings as well.

029The team’s food offerings can — nay, should — be enjoyed from the picnic area located down the third-base line (there is also a new group area beyond right field — I’ll highlight that in the next post).

036And speaking of the next post, it’s going to be arriving in the very near future. That’ll do it for this one, as the game’s about to start.

Nice “Hello Kitty” backpack, bullpen dude. Here’s hoping that you were able to withstand such a withering attack on your masculinity.

022

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On the Road: On Your Mark, Basnett, Go!

To see all posts from my September 2, 2015 visit to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

At every ballpark I visit, I recruit a designated eater. This individual is tasked with consuming the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits. At Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, the home of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, that individual was Mark Basnett.

025Mark, an only child born on Christmas Eve, is 12 years old, in seventh grade and lives in Manchester. On the day I met him, the school year had just begun and he was none too happy about it. I think we all know the feeling.

“Trust me, summer is fun,” he said. “When summer’s over it’s like, ‘Boo.’ I don’t want to go back to school.”

Mark, who is autistic, is a regular attendee at Fisher Cats games along with his mom, Kristin. She explained in an email that “He is 12 and typically doesn’t like me around. You know, because I’m Mom.” Accordingly, Mark and I embarked on our designated eating adventures together while Kristin stayed and watched the game from her seat in front of the first base dugout.

I really enjoyed getting to know Mark, and think that you will as well. So, before we move into the meat of the post (so to speak), here are a few facts about Mark.

Favorite Food: Hamburgers “I eat them almost all of summer vacation. They’re my favorite with regular mustard. I hate honey mustard.”

Favorite Drink: Diet Coke “I love it.”

Favorite Restaurant: 99. “It serves good meals.”

Favorite (or at least most unique) Dessert: “One time for Halloween my Mom and Dad and I made a Jolly Rancher sour apple. My Dad melted the Jolly Rancher in a pan. It tasted really good.”

Favorite Movie: Pixels Because it’s like a real-life video game.”

Favorite Book: Diary of a Wimpy Kid “Because it looks hand-drawn. Maybe it is.”

Most Fun Thing He Ever Did: “Go on a Disney cruise. It was in Florida, and it sailed to different places. At the halfway point of the trip it turned around and sailed back.”

Okay, now it’s time to eat. The Fisher Cats have a variety of food choices at their concourse concession stands.

015Mark wasn’t too interested in expanding into uncharted food territory and the Fisher Cats’ concessions generally emphasize the staples anyway. So we stuck to the basics, and started with a cheeseburger.

Burgers, after all, are Mark’s favorite food.

026“Well, it only has cheese and mustard on it,” said Mark. “And meat. And two buns and that’s it.”

A closer look reveals that Mark’s assessment was correct.

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“The best cheeseburger is hot sauce and mustard,” Mark elaborated. “But there is no mustard on pizza, because that would be weird.”

Where there’s thunder, there’s lightning. And where’s there’s a cheeseburger, there are fries.

028“I eat fries like a normal human,” explained Mark. “Sometimes I lick the salt off my fingers, which some people think is weird.”

I don’t think that’s weird, Mark. I do the same thing.

030As mentioned earlier, Mark loves Diet Coke. So, of course, he just had to wash down the burger and fries with his favorite beverage.

031“Every time I take a sip of Diet Coke it makes the tears run down my eyes,” said Mark. “The Diet Coke tastes a lot more diet-y than the regular Coke does….Oh, man. I’m hiccuping already.”

I then asked Mark if he was interested in obtaining some dessert. He was.

“Could I have some chocolate chip ice cream? Mom and I once tried to figure it out, how not to spill it, because it was so full.”

That was Mark’s set-up. And here’s the punch line:

“You know what else is gonna be full in 15 minutes or so? This, right here.”

Mark was pointing to his stomach.

So off to the ice cream man it was. The Hood’s ice cream man, specifically. They did not have vanilla chocolate chip ice cream, so Mark had to settle for mint.

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Mark, who managed not to spill this oversized offering, said that “the mint is the reason why its minty, and the chocolate chips are the reason that its chocolate chipity.”

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And that was it for Mark’s designated eating experience. He thoughtfully insisted on bringing the leftovers to his Mom, explaining that “Now Mom’s kinda gonna be the designated eater.”

And, 12 years old or not, seventh grader or not, he seemed very happy to see her. The feeling was mutual.

035Thanks, Mark. And thanks, Kristin. It was great meeting you both.

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